Aetna Supports First National Study on Community-Based Use of Genetic Tests for Cancer Risk

-- Study will explore use, outcomes and disparities in genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer among women –

-- Researchers from the Univ. of South Florida and Georgetown Univ., with the American Cancer Society will conduct this landmark two-year study --

HARTFORD, Conn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Testing is available to help identify if a woman is likely to face one of her gender’s worst fears: inherited breast and ovarian cancer. But significant questions have been raised among doctors and public health agencies about whether these tests are being offered to the women who can most benefit – consistent with the evidence-based guidelines for this testing – and whether the information learned from testing is being put to best use.

A landmark study, to be funded by Aetna, will explore patterns of how and for what groups of women the available genetic tests for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are being used in the community health care setting, and whether, as suspected, significant disparities exist in the use of these tests among women of different socioeconomic, racial and ethnic groups. The study also will examine the use of risk-reduction and screening services by patients following testing.

“Even the most brilliant medical science is flawed when not used appropriately,” said Anne Beal, M.D., M.P.H., president of the Aetna Foundation. “In the case of BRCA testing, there is valid concern that some women are receiving this test unnecessarily, while others, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities, as well as poorer women, should be receiving these critical tests and are not. This study may validate the need for specific strategies to eliminate barriers to these tests – whether they are knowledge-based, culturally-based, or access-based – and help improve the health outcomes among high-risk poor or minority women.”

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second-most common cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. Some women inherit a genetic defect that puts them at very high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Genetic testing is available to help identify these women so extra measures can be taken either to prevent cancer from occurring, or to ensure through careful monitoring that cancer is detected in its very earliest stages when it is highly curable. However, questions have been raised about whether the right women are taking advantage of these genetic tests, and there is scant published research to answer those questions.

“To date, there has been no national study of BRCA testing in the community settings where most people receive their care,” said Rebecca Sutphen, M.D., Professor of Genetics at the University of South Florida and lead investigator on the planned study. “We need to ask, who is being tested? Do they have access to the right experts and the right information to allow them to make informed decisions about testing? What choices are they being given and what options are they choosing to manage their cancer risk? The answers to these questions have tremendous public health impact.”

“Health plan data contains a rich source of information that can be used to develop evidence about the effectiveness of clinical care,” said Joanne Armstrong, M.D., Sr. Medical Director, head of Women's Health, Aetna. “The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have encouraged and promoted the use of health plan data to better understand the effectiveness of care and have specifically highlighted inherited risk for breast and ovarian cancer as a high priority area for research.”

Accordingly, the two-year study to be funded by Aetna will be the first of its kind to provide data on the use and outcomes of BRCA testing among a large, representative population of insured individuals in the United States.

The study will examine de-identified data on approximately 13,000 Aetna members who receive BRCA testing. It will be conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida and Georgetown University, in collaboration with the American Cancer Society.

About Aetna

Aetna (AET) is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving approximately 35.8 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities and health care management services for Medicaid plans. Our customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups and expatriates. For more information, see

About the Aetna Foundation

The Aetna Foundation is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc. Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed over $379 million in grants and sponsorships, including more than $20 million in 2009. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered nearly two million hours since 2003. Our current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit

About the University of South Florida

The University of South Florida (USF) is one of the nation’s top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community-engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $394.1 million in research contracts and grants in fiscal year 2009-10.. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF system has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions and campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland.


Susan G. Millerick, 860-273-0536
[email protected]

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