The road to prophylaxis

1 minute read

Jane Brody writes about hereditary cancers, and genetic testing. It's sort of a self-education kind of piece. The theme is the extreme: radical surgeries that can nearly eliminate the chances of cancers that otherwise would be near-certain:

Dr. Coit described a family in which the father and his father both developed thyroid cancer linked to the RET mutation. The younger man's 6-year-old son was tested and found to carry the same damaged gene. Because the boy was certain to develop thyroid cancer, most likely at a young age, his thyroid was removed. Although the boy will need to take thyroid hormone for the rest of his life, the surgery reduced to zero his chance of developing this often fatal cancer.

The last part of the article is the warning section. Most interesting: Your relatives might sue you if you fail to tell them about your positive genetic test result.

Also, there's a warning about bogus genetic tests, for "what kinds of food to eat" and other stuff. I'll have a bit more about that later -- there are a lot of charlatans out there making hay out of the current rise in genetic testing.

I should point out that the description of these extreme cases does little to educate people about the much more common situation, where a "risk variant" may confer a very slight increased risk of a condition.