Physician interpretation of variants of uncertain significance


A growing number of physicians will interact with genetic test results as testing becomes more commonplace. While variants of uncertain significance can complicate results, it is equally important that physicians understand how to incorporate these results into clinical care. An online survey was created to assess physician self-reported comfort level with genetics and variants of uncertain significance. Physicians were asked to respond to three case examples involving genetic test results. The survey was sent to 488 physicians at Mayo Clinic FL on 8/16/2017. Physicians from all specialties were invited to participate. A total of 92 physicians responded to the survey. Only 13/84 (14.6%) responded to all three case examples with the answer deemed “most correct” by review of literature. Physicians that specialized in cancer were more likely to answer questions appropriately (P = .02). Around half (39/84) of the physicians incorrectly defined a variant of uncertain significance (VUS). Over 75% made a recommendation for genetic testing that was not warranted. Many physicians have never received formal genetics training; however, they will be expected to provide an accurate explanation of the genetic test results and subsequent evidence-based medical management recommendations. These results demonstrate that a substantial proportion of physicians lack a true understanding of the implications a VUS. Utilization of supplemental genetics training programs coupled with increase awareness of genetic services may help to improve patient care.

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Correspondence to Sarah K. Macklin.

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Macklin, S.K., Jackson, J.L., Atwal, P.S. et al. Physician interpretation of variants of uncertain significance. Familial Cancer 18, 121–126 (2019).

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  • Genetics
  • Cancer surveillance
  • Variant of uncertain significance