Dealing with the unexpected

Would you like to know if you were at risk of developing cancer? A paper published last February tried to answer the question, and although most participants appreciated knowing their condition, some questions can still be raised.

All but one of the 32 mutation-positive participants appreciated learning their BRCA mutation status.


Screening is the first step of acceptance

The study reports the data of people who had chosen to view their BRCA reports and to participate to this study, which make them relatively more prepared to receive bad news than the general population. My guess is, if we were to ask people to have a free BRCA screening we would have much different results. In my experience in dealing with screenings, it is very difficult to convince people to get screened if they were unwilling in the first place, because the possibility of having a positive test could be life changing.

Age is key

In this study, the mean age was 47, at this age people are more inclined to get tested by themselves for breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, etc. 47 is not an advanced age, but most people are already prepared to deal with sickness, women are dealing with menopause and are stressing about the possibility of developing cancer, men are probably already dealing with hypertension. If anything, getting tested for a gene that could cause cancer could be a relief, they could make arrangements to dodge the bullet if there is still time. However, for younger people, it is more complicated, if anything, this could be crippling news, ideas like “I haven’t had the time to live my life” comes to mind.

Direct access to BRCA mutation tests, considered a model for high-risk actionable genetic tests of proven clinical utility, provided clear benefits to participants.

The authors concluded that the access to the BRCA mutation tests provided a life-saving benefit to the participants with the mutation, since their relatives also got to get tested, which is the general idea behind screenings: We do screenings to save lives, other than that I would say that the conclusion behind the study is that people in their 50s who would go get screened are more prepared to receive the bad news. =)

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