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Mental Health Risks May Outweigh Benefits of Breast Cancer Genetic Testing

What is Genetic Testing?

Genetic Testing is the scientific breakthrough of testing a person’s DNA or other genetic markers to discover information about the person’s genetic makeup. Genetic testing has been developed to serve a variety of purposes, including DNA testing to identify one’s parents, to identify a person post-mortem, and to screen the likelihood of a person contracting a specific condition or disease.

While some diseases can be absolutely detected during genetic testing, other genetic tests, such as testing for breast cancer, can only predict whether a person has an increased risk of developing the disease. This is why getting rid of gyno which is a common problem these days is really important. You need to learn more about this condition that can affect both men and women. Following a certain workout and diet plans along with regular ingestion of medications can help you with this.

Breast Cancer Statistics

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), about 12 percent of all women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. That’s about 1 in 8 women. Overall, those who contract the disease have an 89% 5-year survival rate, and those who catch the disease before it spreads to the lymph nodes have an even higher survival rate – 98%.

These statistics argue strongly for catching breast cancer in the earliest stage possible, and the National Breast Cancer Foundation suggests doing a breast self-exam at least once a month. Nearly 70% of all breast cancers are detected through these self-exams.

Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer

Genetic Tests have been developed to test the BCRA1 and BCRA2 genes for mutations that can lead to the development of breast cancer. The NCI estimates that mutations in these genes account for about 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers, leaving the remaining 90 to 95 percent of breast cancers undetected through this method.

About 60 percent of women who have inherited the BCRA1 and BCRA2 mutations will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, compared to 12 percent of women in the general population. This means that if the results of the genetic test for breast cancer come back positive, you will be about five times more likely than the average woman of developing breast cancer; it does not mean you will definitely develop the disease.

Mental Health Concerns of Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer

Regardless of the test’s outcome, those who submit to genetic testing for breast cancer will have an emotional reaction to the result. These reactions can be positive, such as relief in the face of a test indicating the BCRA1 or BCRA2 mutation is not present, or determination to live the healthiest lifestyle possible if the test indicates an increased risk of breast cancer. The reactions to test results can also be negative, such as survivor’s guilt if one sibling did not inherit the mutation from a parent while another did, or the onset of depression in the face of a positive test result.

Even if reactions to the results of genetic testing for breast cancer are initially positive, healthy reactions, patients may go to extremes with behavior. For example, a person found not to have the mutation may become complacent with breast self-exams, even though 90 to 95 percent of breast cancers are not caused by the BCRA1 or BCRA2 mutation. If someone in this situation develops breast cancer, the likelihood of early detection decreases, as does the chance of surviving the disease. A person who is faced with the breast cancer mutation may go to the extreme of having an elective prophylactic mastectomy, having both breasts removed with the intention of eliminating their risk for the disease and exposing themselves to surgical complications and depression.

The Decision Not to Have Genetic Testing For Breast Cancer

When my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer over 10 years ago, an initial surge of shock and fear went through me. She has survived, and no one else in my family has had the disease, but every time I mark “Breast Cancer” for my aunt on my family medical history it sends out a little warning.

I could have genetic testing done for the BCRA1 and BCRA2 mutation, but I won’t. I don’t need a test to tell me I might get breast cancer; every woman out there might get breast cancer – we have a 12 percent chance of it. I don’t see the benefit of having someone tell me I’m even more likely to get breast cancer, and the test can’t tell me I’m less likely to get it.

After weighing the benefits and the risks of genetic testing for breast cancer, I will take the 70% chance of early detection through breast self-exams instead of the possibility of detecting what causes 5-10% of breast cancers. I will increase my chance of survival through self-empowerment instead of having someone point out the fact that I might get breast cancer, and risk sending myself into severe depression if my risk happens to be higher than someone else’s. My children don’t deserve a mother who is depressed and waiting to die; they deserve to have a mother who is happy and loving, for however long I’m here.

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