Federal law prohibits such discrimination, suggesting a need to better educate the public about the strengths and weaknesses of genetic screens.
"I see patients every week who could have taken steps to reduce their risk if they'd known they'd had a predisposition for a certain type of cancer. The best treatment for cancer is prevention, of which genetic testing plays an integral role," said Saundra Buys, co-director of the Family Cancer Assessment Clinic and medical director of High Risk Cancer Research at Huntsman, in a news release.
But not all patients are good candidates for testing, Buys added in an interview, noting family and personal health history are the most important factors in determining whether a person should pursue testing.
Only 5 percent of all cancers are thought to be inherited. But targeted therapies exist for about 50 mutations, and the list of target-able genes is growing.
Tests for these known mutations are only as useful as the counseling that accompanies them, Buys said.
"There are many genetic tests being ordered in physician offices around the country without the benefit of genetic counseling. The results of these tests are complex, and without appropriate counseling, can cause confusion and unneeded anxiety for patients," she said.
Among other findings from the poll:
• Of those who said they would seek testing to guide treatment, 72 percent said they would be willing to share their genetic information for research purposes.
• Only 8 percent reported ever having had a genetic test, but some claimed it was for prostate cancer when no such screen exists. "These people might have had a PSA or rectal exam, but they didn't have a genetic test," Buys said.
The U. posted partial poll results online.
Harris Interactive conducted the survey of insured men and women between the ages of 25 and 70. Results were weighted to reflect the U.S. population. Answers carry a 3 percent margin of error.