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Why are racial/ethnic minority populations less likely than whites to get genetic testing, which can help a woman learn if she has an abnormal gene that is linked to higher breast cancer risk? The answer may lie in their attitudes toward genetic testing.

Latina, black, Asian, Native American, and Appalachian women all had a generally positive attitude toward genetic testing, but several key differences emerged among these minority groups, according to a new study led by Dr. Amelie Ramirez of Redes En Acción, a national cancer research network based at the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The study, which sought to better understand attitudes toward genetic testing to guide development of culturally sensitive educational materials and programs, found that:

  • Latinas endorsed the greatest number of benefits of testing and perceived the least number of risks. Latinas also placed significantly more importance on “following doctors’ recommendations” than other groups.
  • African American women perceived more risks and barriers to testing, with cost being a large deterrent, and more concern about the effects of testing on their families.
  • Asian American women were less interested in paying for more expensive testing than most other groups.
  • Appalachian women were most concerned about testing’s costs and effects on family.
  • Native Americans were more likely to distrust modern medicine and had more concerns about the risk of others receiving test results without permission than other groups, reflecting a historical struggle with stigmatization.

The results suggest that healthcare providers should inform racial/ethnic minorities about the costs and benefits of genetic testing for breast cancer.

“Researchers and healthcare providers should also strive to increase understanding of the legitimate and accurate test costs and opportunities for coverage and reimbursement,” according to Ramirez and her study team, which included IHPR researchers Dr. Patricia Chalela, Dr. Alan Holden, Kip Gallion, and Edgar Muñoz, and was supported by the National Cancer Institute and Susan G. Komen. “In addition, participants would benefit from tailored educational strategies about genetic counseling and testing that incorporate the unique cultural values and beliefs of each group.”

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