Saturday, February 10, 2018

Genetic Testing and Non-High Risk

A person can be considered medically high risk due to their or a family member's medical history. If you are considered medically as high risk, you get popped into the category of give them lots more medical attention and 'lovely' tests.

Now with the progress of genomic testing, its no longer a big expensive, rare proposition. However, why do we only test the high risk people? These are the people who already know they are high risk. But that leaves a lot of people who don't know they are high risk and could be. This doesn't make sense. Some new research asks if it wouldn't it make more sense to test more people who aren't necessarily considered high risk? That might be more practical and save lives.

"A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicates that screening the general population for mutations in specific genes is a more cost-effective way to detect people at risk and prevents more breast and ovarian cancers compared to only screening patients with a personal or family history of these diseases.

Current guidelines recommend that only those with a personal or family history that could indicate a greater risk of developing cancer be tested for gene mutations that can cause the disease. However, the successful use of testing for high-risk groups has led many to consider extending genetic testing for cancer to the whole population."

As I said it does make a lot of sense to do this. You would find people who did not know they were high risk and help prevent many more cases of breast and ovarian cancer. 

Mutations that cause cancer can occur in many people with no history to indicate a risk. These people are therefore not included in screening programs that target high-risk patients and the mutations remain undetected. The researchers of the new study estimate that implementing a program to test all women over the age of 30 could result in thousands fewer cases of ovarian and breast cancer in women in the US and UK.
However my response to this idea is a big fat 'No'. Isn't it kind of 'big brother-ish'? Yes it is. I'm sorry, but I would not approve of their approach to testing all women over the age of 30. The researchers then suggest:

"Population testing for breast and ovarian cancer gene mutations is the most cost-effective strategy which can prevent these cancers in high risk women and save lives,” said the paper's lead researcher, Ranjit Manchanda. "Our findings support broadening genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer genes across the entire population beyond just the current criteria based clinical approach...""

It may be cost effective but that is not a way to treat patients. We are not little cost effective units that can be modernized or tested to meet some kind of cost effective study. We are human beings and need to be treated as such.

Yes I agree that we are normally subject to requirements to be immunized for certain illnesses. But this is different. Part of the reason for immunizations are that they are to prevent contagious diseases that can be passed from person to person. They can cause epidemics that can kill multiple people and cost significant amounts in medical bills.

Ailments causes by genetic mutations are not contagious. They affect only one person at a time. A person's genetic traits are unique. They should be kept private. They do not belong in some database anywhere to follow people around.

This would result in discrimination and bias if known to potential employers, health insurance companies, and life insurance companies. Even if such discrimination was illegal it would still happen. So no way in my opinion.

Finally, what if patients do not want to be tested. Some people (myself included) would not want to know the results of such testing. This is why I will not go to a fortune teller or tarot card reading. I do not want to know. I have enough to worry about as it is.

Clearly this is a case of 'just because we can, doesn't mean we should'.

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