Breast Cancer Genetic Testing: More Than a Medical Management Tool

Dawn Schroeder

Sherrill A. Conroy

ethics, genetic testing, hereditary cancer, autonomy
CJON 2015, 19(5), 603-607. DOI: 10.1188/15.CJON.603-607

Background: Knowing whether a harmful hereditary mutation exists in BRCA1 and BRCA2 can enable women to make informed decisions regarding surveillance and surgery options to manage risk. Given the attention in the media about BRCA genetic testing, nurses need to revisit how this knowledge may affect a woman’s sense of self and the forces that may influence this decision.

Objectives: This article aims to understand how complex the decision to undergo genetic testing may be for some women by exploring the impact of genetic knowledge on the self, changes to customary definitions for health and illness, and ethical issues and social forces that may influence genetic testing decisions.

Methods: A review of the literature was undertaken to understand how genetic knowledge may alter meanings attached to the breast and how health is defined, and to identify ethical concerns and social forces that may affect a woman’s decision to undergo or decline an offer for genetic testing.

Findings: An understanding and awareness of the potential benefits and harms of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing, as well as the social forces that may influence a woman’s decision to undergo or decline an offer for genetic testing and the commitment to remain open to the uniqueness of each woman’s situation, may enhance the nurse-patient relationship and result in a decision that is ethically in the best interest of the patient.

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