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Is failure to recommend genetic testing medical malpractice?

Is a doctor's failure to recommend genetic testing to a woman who stands an increased likelihood of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer based on her family history an instance of medical malpractice?

At least one jury says that it is.

As medical science has evolved, genetic testing has identified some common markers in DNA that can predict a person's likelihood of developing certain diseases -- including breast cancer.

In specific, BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two genetic markers that play a role in the development of several types of cancer, but especially ovarian and breast cancer in women. Like all genes, they're hereditary, so a woman's family history often provides clues as to whether or not she's likely to have the mutation that causes cancer.

The difference in a woman's odds of developing breast cancer if she has these particular genetic mutations climbs from 12 percent (the national average) to as high as 65 percent. Her odds of developing ovarian cancer raise from 1.3 percent to up to 39 percent, depending on which mutation she has.

The average woman doesn't know this -- but her doctor should, especially if that doctor specializes in gynecology. Women rely on their gynecologists to provide testing that will detect certain cancers. And the jury verdicts in the two cases to test the theory that a failure to recommend genetic testing when it is warranted is medical malpractice seem to agree that women should be able to rely on those doctors to provide them the necessary information to make informed choices about their future.

In the case addressing this issue, the woman's surviving spouse filed a medical malpractice suit based on delayed diagnosis and the doctor's failure to recommend genetic testing even though he knew that the woman had a family history of breast cancer. A subsequent mammogram had an anomaly that was ignored. Had genetic testing been done to discover the mutated gene she carried, the anomaly would have held more significance and she would have known her risks were much greater -- which may have led her to earlier treatment and ultimate survival.

An attorney can provide you with more information on your legal options if you've experienced an instance of medical malpractice based on your doctor's failure to inform you of your genetic risks for cancer and available testing.

Source: Modern Medicine Network, "Failure to recommend genetic testing in breast cancer," Victor R Colton MD JD, Douglas H Kirkpatrick MD, June 08, 2017

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