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Medically underserved women in the Southeast diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer missed out on genetic testing that could have helped them and their relatives make important decisions about their health, according to new research from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Only 8 percent of disabled or older women who qualified for Medicare and met the criteria for BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing received it between 2000 and 2014, researchers determined after analyzing data from the Southern Community Cohort Study. The findings were published Aug. 14 in JAMA.

Women with breast cancer who have pathogenic BRCA mutations are more likely to develop cancer in a second breast and are also at higher risk for ovarian cancer. Women with ovarian cancer are more likely to develop breast cancer if they test positive for the mutations. Their relatives, if they also carry the mutations, are at higher risk for developing cancer as well.

“Women who carry one of these mutations but don’t know their mutation status are not able to take advantage of preventive or early detection interventions that we have available, so they miss out on the opportunity to reduce their risk for these cancers and potentially reduce their overall mortality,” said

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