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In late 2021, tennis star Chris Evert learned new genetic information about her sister, who died from ovarian cancer in January 2020. As Evert has explained in posts published by ESPN, her sister had a variant in the BRCA1 gene that was reclassified—upgraded—from a variant of uncertain significance (VUS) to pathogenic. Hearing about the variant’s reclassification likely saved Evert’s life. After getting genetic testing that showed she also carried the variant, Evert underwent prophylactic surgery. Clinical testing associated with the procedure revealed she already had stage 1c ovarian cancer.
The Wall Street Journal reported on a different variant reclassification story in 2019. Seven female relatives had prophylactic surgeries after cascade genetic testing indicated they each carried the same pathogenic variant in BRCA2. However, there was significant distress and confusion when one of the women received notice that the variant had been downgraded from pathogenic to a VUS. As these cases illustrate, reclassification of the clinical significance of genetic variants—which ranges from pathogenic, likely pathogenic, uncertain, likely benign and benign—can have profound impacts on individuals and families.
Although genetic testing often provides valuable information, many identified variants are of uncertain significance, even in genes associated with disease. Many of these VUS will be reclassified as genomic data …
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.