Breast cancer testing for minors?

The next generation of parents could challenge current recommendations against it.

By Lynn Harris

Published January 16, 2008 7:46PM (EST)

Let's say you have a strong family history of breast cancer. Let's say you test positive for one of the BRCA mutations. And let's say you have a kid. Do you test her, too -- even while she's still a kid?

In a study just published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, 40 percent of respondents -- both BRCA mutation carriers and their adult children -- said yes. Half said yes, under certain circumstances. Among just the sons and daughters, a majority supported testing minors.

The study's lead author, Angela Bradbury, M.D., of Fox Chase Cancer Center, suggests that the latter finding "signals that the next generation may be more comfortable [than their parents] with genetic testing."

Currently, though, most professional guidelines recommend against testing minors for adult-onset conditions. Why? Basically, because it short-circuits their own later decision making, and because it could deeply freak them out. But, say proponents, why wouldn't you want to be able to start as early as possible with whatever prevention you can? Bottom line, wouldn't you want to know everything you can about your child's health?

The study, of course, called for more ... study, especially considering that there's not enough empirical data yet to support either position. In the meantime, what do you think?

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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