Why 23andMe's New BRCA Test Won't Tell You Much About Your Breast Cancer Risk

Live Science | 3/8/2018 | Staff
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People can now buy a take-home medical test that looks for a certain type of breast cancer risk — but people need to know a few key things to make use of the test safely, a bioethicist told Live Science.

The test in question is produced by 23andMe and looks for three specific mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are known to increase the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer in women, and breast and prostate cancer in men. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the direct-to-consumer test approval on Tuesday (March 6).

Test - Markers - FDA - Test - Caplan

First, the test itself likely works just fine, as the markers the FDA approved in the test are "pretty well-established," Caplan said. However, the test may give users a false sense of security: It detects just 3 out of more than 1,000 known BRCA mutations, so a person may test negative but still have an increased cancer risk, the FDA said in a statement.

Conversely, because scientists are still learning about how other mutations increase or decrease cancer risk, it's possible that a person could test positive but still not be at high risk, Caplan said.

People - Advice - Caplan

If people do test positive, they might not know where to turn for sound medical advice, Caplan added.

"The company will say [that] they'll put you in touch with a genetic-counseling website, but that's not good enough," Caplan said.

Instance - People - Treatments - Potential

For instance, people might not realize that there are different treatments available, as well as many potential...
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