If your genes put you at higher risk for cancer, would you want to know?

An article in today’s Globe and Mail reports that Jewish women of Eastern European descent are at an increased risk

An article in today’s Globe and Mail reports that Jewish women of Eastern European descent are at an increased risk of developing ovarian and breast cancers. As a Jewish woman whose ancestors come from Poland and Romania, I have just one thing to say: Oy.

According to the article, a study published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that one percent of Ashkenazi Jewish women carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations that put them at significantly higher risk for developing the cancers. Now, Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, (whose research institute conducted the study) has announced that it will offer free screening to all Jewish women of European descent, regardless of their family history (women who did not have a family history of the disease were previously denied genetic testing).

Objectively, this is quite good news. Since the study found that Jewish women who would not have qualified for the test did in fact carry the mutations and would otherwise have been missed, it’s fantastic to learn that more high-risk women will be screened. As well, those who do test positive for the mutations will have greater access to screening and preventative therapies. I should probably make an appointment right this minute.

But then there’s the scardy-cat side of me that maybe doesn’t want to know whether or not I have this mutation. It’s that same foilish part of me that sometimes puts off visiting the doctor for fear of a serious diagnosis. Does anyone else deal with this kind of anxiety? How do you overcome it?

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