Study finds genetic testing motivates behavior changes in families at risk for melanoma

Source: Medical Xpress, September 2019

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and melanoma is the most severe type of skin cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 96,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year, and the disease will cause more than 7,000 deaths. Utah has a particularly high melanoma rate. A new study led by researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) and collaborators at Northwestern University (NW) and Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) investigated whether genetic testing would motivate people at risk of developing melanoma to alter their behavior in order to reduce their risk. The study was published today in Genetics in Medicine.

“We are trying to understand whether a genetic test result adds value over and above what can be achieved by patient counseling alone,” said study co-author Lisa G. Aspinwall, Ph.D., HCI researcher and professor of psychology at the U of U. “A genetic test result is concrete and highly personalized. We thought this would be more motivating for difficult behavior change than information about risk based on  alone.”

The Utah Behavior, Risk Information, Genealogy, and Health Trial (BRIGHT) study focused on families with a high risk of . Individuals enrolling in the study had three or more  diagnosed with melanoma. Participants between the ages of 16-70 were recruited from melanoma-prone families of two types: families with a known cancer-causing gene called CDKN2A and families with comparably high rates of melanoma but no identified CDKN2A mutation. Researchers at the U of U previously discovered that individuals who carry an inherited mutation in the CDKN2A gene are rare, but those individuals have a risk of up to 76 percent of developing melanoma in their lifetime. Co-author Sancy Leachman, MD, Ph.D., director of the melanoma research program at Knight Cancer Institute and professor of dermatology at OHSU, explains, “All melanoma has a strong genetic component, but individuals with a strong  history are at extremely high risk. They are ideal candidates for prevention and early detection measures. Making a few relatively simple changes could save their lives.”

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