BACKGROUND: Advances in genomics offer promise for earlier detection or prevention of cancer, by personalisation of medical care tailored to an individual's genomic risk status. However genome sequencing can generate an unprecedented volume of results for the patient to process with potential implications for their families and reproductive choices. This paper describes a protocol for a study (PiGeOn) that aims to explore how patients and their blood relatives experience germline genomic sequencing, to help guide the appropriate future implementation of genome sequencing into routine clinical practice.
METHODS: We have designed a mixed-methods, prospective, cohort sub-study of a germline genomic sequencing study that targets adults with cancer suggestive of a genetic aetiology. One thousand probands and 2000 of their blood relatives will undergo germline genomic sequencing as part of the parent study in Sydney, Australia between 2016 and 2020. Test results are expected within12-15 months of recruitment. For the PiGeOn sub-study, participants will be invited to complete surveys at baseline, three months and twelve months after baseline using self-administered questionnaires, to assess the experience of long waits for results (despite being informed that results may not be returned) and expectations of receiving them. Subsets of both probands and blood relatives will be purposively sampled and invited to participate in three semi-structured qualitative interviews (at baseline and each follow-up) to triangulate the data. Ethical themes identified in the data will be used to inform critical revisions of normative ethical concepts or frameworks.
DISCUSSION: This will be one of the first studies internationally to follow the psychosocial impact on probands and their blood relatives who undergo germline genome sequencing, over time. Study results will inform ongoing ethical debates on issues such as informed consent for genomic sequencing, and informing participants and their relatives of specific results. The study will also provide important outcome data concerning the psychological impact of prolonged waiting for germline genomic sequencing. These data are needed to ensure that when germline genomic sequencing is introduced into standard clinical settings, ethical concepts are embedded, and patients and their relatives are adequately prepared and supported during and after the testing process.