Maximising the efficiency of clinical screening programmes: balancing predictive genetic testing with a right not to know

Agnes G. Schuurman*, Dorina M. van der Kolk, Marian A. Verkerk, Erwin Birnie, Adelita V. Ranchor, Mirjam Plantinga, Irene M. van Langen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


We explored the dilemma between patients' right not to know their genetic status and the efficient use of health-care resources in the form of clinical cancer screening programmes. Currently, in the Netherlands, 50% risk carriers of heritable cancer syndromes who choose not to know their genetic status have access to the same screening programmes as proven mutation carriers. This implies an inefficient use of health-care resources, because half of this group will not carry the familial mutation. At the moment, only a small number of patients are involved; however, the expanding possibilities for genetic risk profiling means this issue must be addressed because of potentially adverse societal and financial impact. The trade-off between patients' right not to know their genetic status and efficient use of health-care resources was discussed in six focus groups with health-care professionals and patients from three Dutch university hospitals. Professionals prefer patients to undergo a predictive DNA test as a prerequisite for entering cancer screening programmes. Professionals prioritise treating sick patients or proven mutation carriers over screening untested individuals. Participation in cancer screening programmes without prior DNA testing is, however, supported by most professionals, as testing is usually delayed and relatively few patients are involved at present. Reducing the number of 50% risk carriers undergoing screening is expected to be achieved by: offering more psychosocial support, explaining the iatrogenic risks of cancer screening, increasing out-of-pocket costs, and offering a less stringent screening programme for 50% risk carriers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1124-1128
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Journal of Human Genetics
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep-2015


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