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Choice Against Testing

Wired's Cynthia Graber writes that though it's possible she harbors mutations in her BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, she's opted not to undergo testing, despite her mother's urging.

Graber notes that because of her ethnic background, she's at increased risk of having those mutations, and that two paternal relatives died of breast cancer. Still, she says that this did not convince her to get tested. First of all, she says that a risk-assessment tool showed that her family history doesn't reflect a pattern of familial breast cancer, suggesting that her chance of having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation is small.

If she did get tested and was found to have one of the disease-linked mutations, Graber says the information that would push her toward removing her breasts and ovaries is based on women who have a family history of disease, which she doesn't really have. At the same time, such surgery is drastic, would prevent her from having children, and plunge her into early menopause. The alternative to surgery, Graber notes, is more frequency breast scans. But those, too, have a downside — the more scans someone undergoes, the more likely they'll pick something up, even if it's not really a cause for concern.

"Knowing what I do about my family's history … a positive test wouldn't convince me to get surgery. It would just feel like hefting a sword, dangling it by a frayed thread above my head, and waiting for it to fall," she writes. "I'm more scared of living like that than I am of cancer."

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