Genetics in palliative oncology: a missing agenda? A review of the literature and future directions

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Journal Article
Supportive Care in Cancer, 2018, 26 (3), pp. 721 - 730
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© 2017, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature. Purpose: In the palliative oncology setting, genetic assessment may not impact on the patient’s management but can be of vital importance to their surviving relatives. Despite care of the family being central to the ethos of palliative care, little is known about how hereditary aspects of cancer are addressed in this setting. This review aims to examine current practices, identify practice barriers and determine the genetic information and support needs of patients, family members and health providers. Methods: Key databases were systematically searched to identify both quantitative and qualitative studies that addressed these aims. Data was extracted and coded using thematic analysis. Results: Eight studies were included for review. Suboptimal genetic practices were identified, with lack of knowledge and poor confidence amongst providers reported as barriers in both qualitative and quantitative studies. Providers expressed concern about the emotional impact of initiating these discussions late in the disease trajectory; however, qualitative interviews amongst palliative patients suggested there may be emotional benefits. Conclusions: All lines of evidence suggest that genetics is currently missing from the palliative agenda, signifying lost opportunities for mutation detection, genetic counselling and appropriate risk management for surviving relatives. There is an urgent need for interventions to improve provider knowledge and awareness of genetic referral pathways and for research into the genetic information and support needs of palliative care patients.
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