Genetic Heredity=UNFAIR

How is it possible that one hereditary gene determine a human’s future health? Doesn’t it seem unfair that gene mutations passed from your parents can and will affect you and your siblings for the remainder of your lifetimes?

These two questions are brought to life in section 14 of Nova’s “Cracking the Code of Life.” Lisa, Lorie, and Melanie Seagal are three normal, healthy sisters; until they receive the tragic news that Melanie has ovarian cancer at the youthful age of 30. Melanie fights the cancer for four years, but dies shortly after. Lisa, at age 34, is next in receiving news of her development of breast cancer. Although Lisa successfully fights the breast cancer, it does return 12 years later, which requires a single mastectomy. Two of three sisters develop cancer that may be related to their genes. Imagine what a scary reality Lorie is faced with as she lives in complete suspense, wondering if she too will develop cancer.

Around this time, scientists discovered the two genes that increase women’s chances of breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA 1 & 2.

BRCA 1

BRCA 2

With this discovery, scientists have proven that the ovarian and breast cancer running through the Seagal family is definitely not coincidental, it is gene based. Although these two genes are normal and healthy in all humans, mutations passed through heredity may occur. According to the National Cancer Institute, 12% of women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. This is compared to 60% of women who have genetically inherited a mutated BRCA 1 or 2 genes. Therefore, a woman who has inherited such mutated genes is “five times more likely” to develop breast cancer than a woman who has no genetic mutations. This is a very high chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer for a female containing these genetic mutations. Also this is a very scary reality for those women who have no idea that they contain such a deadly mutation.

With today’s technologic developments, doctors and scientists are able to draw blood and determine if any mutations are present within several weeks time frame. As one can see in this segment of Nova, the Seagal family is torn on whether they should pursue testing for their children or not. Since Lisa does carry the mutations, her children are at high risk for obtaining these deadly genes. If Lisa’s daughter Alana is tested, she has two choices to choose from if she has these mutations, to have her breasts and ovaries removed to prevent future cancer scares or to receive genetic counseling and be closely monitored by a doctor.

This test for BRCA 1 & 2 gene mutations is quite pricey, ranging from several hundreds to thousands of dollars. With such a high number of women at risk of cancer with these mutated genes, this high priced test eliminates the ability for all to be tested. Although men and women are both affected by these genetic mutation, women’s lives especially are altered by the consequences of heredity. Lisa Seagal, is one of many women, who must make the very real decision to remove her breast(s) and or her ovaries to prevent future cancer scares. For a young woman, this is a devastating prevention tactic, especially if one plans to have children in the future.

Although it seems quite unfair that children may inherently obtain their parents’ genetic mutations, is it worth testing to discover these mutations or rather to live in fear without knowing? Is it better to wait, ignore the tests and screenings, and hope that you did not acquire this gene? These are important questions that children and family members around the world are faced with daily. If they refuse to face the reality of their genetics, they run the risk of developing cancer. But if they do have the proper tests performed, they are faced with a harsh reality of future cancer and must decide if they want to take the proper precautions to guarantee a healthy future. If we want to begin eliminating the spread of cancer that is traceable in genes throughout populations to come, we must begin testing children for these genetic mutations. If not, heredity unfairly punishes these children with the future development of traceable cancer.

LL

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~ by frumll on February 1, 2010.

One Response to “Genetic Heredity=UNFAIR”

  1. I hate to start with a clique but life isn’t always fair. It is a fact. In terms of genetic testing, some people would rather not know. And I think that’s ok. These tests are not definite; they give a person a probability of the event occurring. What one chooses to do with this information is hopefully based on informed knowledge from someone the person trusts and based on a person’s freedom. Another important thing to consider: ridding the world of heritable cancer will not rid the world of cancer.

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