Genetic Cancer Testing Kits Marketed Online Raise Concerns Over Misleading Claims: Study

Websites offering genetic testing for patients with cancer often overemphasize the helpfulness of the results and downplay the limitations involved, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published this month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers warn that the claims made on genetic testing websites may mislead patients about the value of the results of the tests when considering medical decisions.

The research was conducted at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, revealing that 88% of websites reviewed offered one or more nonstandard tests that lacked evidence of value in cancer care and have not proven to be useful in cancer treatment.

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Researchers focused on websites marketing personalized cancer services to patients, including genetic tests to guide patients in decisions concerning cancer treatment, which may or may not have been shown to be clinically useful.

Stacy W. Gray, lead author of the study, and the team of researchers found a wide variation concerning how the information and tests were presented.

Analysis was conducted of internet websites to identify personalized cancer medicine (PCM) products and claims offered by academic institutions, physicians, research institutes and organizations that market PCM.

PCM products or services were identified as products that could be used to tailor, personalize or individualize care based on genomic or tumor derived data based on samples of patients tumors and testing of DNA to detect mutations and other genetic abnormalities. Companies use this data to help predict how the disease might behave, and at times, recommend a drug or drugs to target the particular mutations found in the cancer.

“We wanted to see if consumers are getting a balanced picture of benefits and limitations of these services,” said Gray in a press release concerning the study. “Some of the information is good, but all of it needs to be looked at critically by consumers and health care providers.”

Researchers found more websites contained information about the benefits of PCM rather than its limitations in patient care.

“Online marketing may be detrimental if it endorses products of unproven benefit,” wrote study authors.

The authors noted that even with regulation, it would be unlikely that such tests would ever be considered a replacement for health care providers who personally help patients choose the correct cancer treatment for themselves as individuals.


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