The Food and Drug Administration recently announced that genetic testing company, 23andMe, can inform people of their breast cancer risk linked to three specific BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutations—without involving a doctor. These gene mutations are most common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish decent, but they are not the most common BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations among the general population.
The announcement sparked some debate. Is it a step forward in cancer care or cause for alarm? 23andMe believes that marketing these types of tests directly to consumers is “incredibly valuable for those who might not be aware of their Ashkenazi Jewish descent or aren’t familiar with their family history of cancer.” There’s certainly an argument to be made that open access to genetic information is a good thing—it can arm consumers with important information, help them take control of their health, and even save lives. But what if people misread, misinterpret, or do not understand the results?