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Consumer genetic test results ‘causing unnecessary breast cancer alarm’

Women are being unnecessarily alarmed about their risk of breast cancer by consumer genetic test results that do not take family history into account, researchers have said.

Women who discover outside a clinical setting that they carry a disease-causing variant of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes may be told that their risk of breast cancer is 60-80%. But analysis of UK Biobank data suggests the risk could be less than 20% for those who do not have a close relative with the condition.

Dr Leigh Jackson, of the University of Exeter’s medical school, who is the lead author of the analysis published in the journal eClinical Medicine, said that in extreme cases this could result in women unnecessarily undergoing surgery.

“Being told you are at high genetic risk of disease can really influence levels of fear of a particular condition and the resulting action you may take,” he said. “Up to 80% risk of developing breast cancer is very different from 20%.”

Until recently, women who received BRCA results did so because they had attended clinic due to symptoms or a family history of disease. However, an increasing number are now learning of their genetic risk after paying for home DNA testing kits or taking part in genetic research, without ever having any personal link with breast cancer. 

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Source: The Guardian, 15 September 2023


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