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||'Cancer doesn't have an age': genetic testing and cancer risk management in BRCA1/2 mutation-positive women aged 18-24.
||Werner-Lin A, Hoskins LM, Doyle MH, Greene MH
||Increasingly, 18-24-year-old women from hereditary breast/ovarian cancer (HBOC) families are pursuing genetic testing, despite their low absolute risks of breast and ovarian cancer and the fact that evidence-based management options used with older high-risk women are not generally available. Difficult clinical decisions in older carriers take on substantially more complexity and value-laden import in very young carriers. As a result, many of the latter receive highly personal and emotionally charged cancer risk information in a life context where management strategies are not well defined. We analyzed 32 in-depth interviews with BRCA1/2 mutation-positive women aged 18-24 using techniques of grounded theory and interpretive description. Participants described feeling vulnerable to a cancer diagnosis but in a quandary regarding their care because evidence-based approaches to management have not been developed and clinical trials have not been undertaken. Our participants demonstrated a wide range of genetic and health literacy. Inconsistent recommendations, surveillance fatigue, and the unpredictability of their having health insurance coverage for surgical risk-reducing procedures led several to contemplate risk-reducing mastectomy before age 25. Parents remained a primary source of emotional and financial support, slowing age-appropriate independence and complicating patient privacy. Our findings suggest that, for 18-24-year-olds, readiness to autonomously elect genetic testing, to fully understand and act on genetic information, and to confidently make decisions with life-long implications are all evolving processes. We comment on the tensions between informed consent, privacy, and the unique developmental needs of BRCA1/2 mutation-positive women just emerging into their adult years.