Files mishandled at BC Cancer Agency

Genetic screeners contacting nearly 200 patients assessed in Surrey, Abbotsford and Vancouver

The BC Cancer Agency has fired a staff member it says mishandled nearly 200 files and potentially delayed screening of people identified as genetically predisposed to cancer.

The compromised cases involve 192 patients who used the Hereditary Cancer Program at the BC Cancer Agency sites in Surrey, Abbotsford and Vancouver between August and December of 2010.

The program provides counseling and referrals for genetic testing for patients whose family histories suggest they may be predisposed to develop cancer.

Because of incomplete documentation of the affected files, referring physicians may not have been properly notified of any findings.

Dr. Barb McGillivray, the program’s medical director, said patients were all  properly evaluated and advised of findings by counsellors at the time they were assessed.

“In some cases, the next step – sending a letter back to the referring physician and outlining our recommendation – that did not occur,” she said.

As a result, the agency is following up to make sure the patients and their relatives are informed.

The program has already reached 188 affected patients and it’s searching for the remaining four. All of their physicians have been contacted.

Anyone who was assessed by the program at the three sites in the second half of 2010 and have not yet been contacted is asked to call 604-877-6000 local 2198.

“The agency and the program are very concerned that this happened,” McGillivray said.

But she stressed the risk of harm to the patients is “minimal” because the Hereditary Cancer Program does not directly diagnose and treat patients.

The service typically involves determining timelines for future screening or tests, if warranted, and potential preventative measures.

Genetic testing does not diagnose cancer but may indicated the presence of a mutation that is known to increase the patient’s likelihood of developing cancer.

A spokesperson for the Provincial Health Services Authority said the matter is being taken “very seriously” and an investigation is underway.

“BC Cancer Agency and PHSA apologize and sincerely regret any stress or anxiety this situation may have caused the clients and physicians involved,” the authority said in a statement.

The patients involved could have come from all over B.C., except for Vancouver Island.