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Published on April 01, 2021

Billings Clinic participating in early cancer detection and prevention study

$1.2M in federal grant funding provides genetic testing at primary care appointments

There are more than 50 known hereditary cancer syndromes, and 5 to 10 percent of cancers have a hereditary component to them. However, despite this knowledge, testing for these types of cancers in the appropriate populations remains a vastly underused cancer prevention strategy. Cost, testing location, and lack of knowledge on how to get testing are just a few of the barriers that prevent access to this crucial tool that would help identify this risk.

A collaboration between the University of Washington, Billings Clinic, and Multicare Health System in the Seattle, Washington area attempts to address this problem by offering the chance to be assessed for genetic testing at primary care appointments. This population-based approach is an attempt to develop more effective cancer prevention and early detection approaches for people at high risk for cancer in both rural and urban areas.

With $1.2 million in federal grant funding secured by the University of Washington, Jeannine Brant, PhD, APRN, AOCN, FAAN, director of Billings Clinic’s Collaborative Science and Innovation program, is leading the effort at six sites that are part of the Billings Clinic health care system. Billings Clinic’s three primary care clinics in Billings, branch clinics in Cody, Wyo., and Miles City, and partner Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown, will participate in the study. Multicare will conduct the study at six additional clinics within its system with additional grant funding.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our community and for patients,” Brant said. “Being informed about personal risks for cancer can allow for closer monitoring and earlier detection of cancer, which can save lives.”

Primary care patients at participating clinics will be approached either by clinic staff or through a letter sent to their home. In both methods, patients will have the chance to take a risk assessment survey and, if appropriate, receive a test kit in their home to complete genetic testing for the eight most common hereditary cancer syndromes. The hope is that this approach to assessing for cancer risk will become a standard of care in primary care clinics across the country.

Grant funding for the study was provided by the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Moonshot program. The program aims to make more cancer therapies available to more patients, while also improving the ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage. In 2016, Congress approved $1.8 billion for Cancer Moonshot through the 21st Century Cures Act.

Finding the best way to approach patients is the first step in improving access and uptake of these tests by individuals and families at high-risk for cancer. Once a patient knows their risk, there is the opportunity to act and help catch cancer in its early stages. By knowing the best approach, healthcare systems can act on this knowledge and improve their approach to screening, testing, and even treatment.

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