How Have Multigene Panels Changed the Clinical Practice of Genetic Counseling and Testing

Author: Robert Pilarski MS, LGC, MSW 1
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  • 1 Division of Human Genetics, Department of Internal Medicine, James Comprehensive Cancer Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.
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Historically, genetic testing (and billing) for hereditary cancer risk was essentially performed gene by gene, with clinicians ordering testing only for the genes most likely to explain a patient’s or family’s cancer presentation, with laboratories typically charging $1,000 to $1,500 for each gene that was sequenced. Given the expense, only patients at high risk of having a hereditary syndrome were offered testing. With the introduction of next-generation sequencing technologies, however, laboratories are able to test for multiple genes at the same time with greater efficiency, significantly decreased costs, and relatively little increased expense when adding additional genes. This has drastically altered clinical practice so that clinicians now typically order testing for a panel of multiple genes for most patients. Although this approach has streamlined the diagnostic odyssey, it has introduced several problems, as well, including difficulties in choosing the appropriate panel test for a given patient, assessing the significance of identified genetic variants (including variants of uncertain significance [VUS]), and understanding the disease risks and management associated with pathogenic variants in a given gene. Many laboratories offer testing for genes that have limited data supporting their associated cancer risks, which then leads to an inability to set management guidelines based on that gene. In addition, testing larger numbers of genes increases the likelihood of finding one or more VUS, which introduce their own management issues. Thus, although panel testing has certainly moved clinical practice forward in many ways, it has also raised its own set of problems that increase the complexity of genetic counseling and highlight the need for education of community practitioners on the complexities and nuances of this testing. Whenever possible, testing should be performed by, or in consultation with, cancer genetics professionals.

Submitted August 17, 2020; accepted for publication October 20, 2020.

Disclosures: The author has disclosed that he has no financial interests, arrangements, or affiliations with the manufacturers of any products discussed in this article or their competitors.

Correspondence: Robert Pilarski, MS, LGC, MSW, Ambry Genetics, 1 Enterprise, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656. Email: rpilarski@ambrygen.com
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