When is a family history of disease considered ‘enough’ by the medical profession in Australia?
Two years ago, I was told the history of the disease in my family wasn’t enough to warrant genetic testing for me. That was before one, and perhaps two more sisters had received their diagnoses.
Let’s examine the facts:
- My great-grandmother was an Ashkenazi Jew*. She died of breast cancer.
- My mother, her grand-daughter, died of breast cancer.
- Tante Joanna, my mother’s sister, died of breast cancer.
- I have (so far) survived breast cancer.
- The youngest of my three older sisters has (so far) survived breast cancer.
- Now my oldest sister is waiting for biopsy results.
- There are only two women left in my generation who are free of breast cancer; one older sister, one younger.
Two years ago, after my diagnosis, I explained to the head of genetic counselling at Townsville hospital that we had an unusual incidence of cancer in general and breast cancer in particular in my mother’s family. At that stage, I didn’t know about my great-grandmother, or either of my sisters. The Genetics Department decided I wasn’t eligible for screening. Not enough cancer. Now look what’s happened: another sister confirmed, yet another spending a frightened and sleepless weekend. I do understand they have to stop somewhere, but if I’d been screened two years ago and they’d found my BRCA1 & 2 genes were defective, things might have been very different. Even if the genes were OK, it would still have been a wake up call for the other women in my family. I don’t believe any more of us should go through this.
So, for the sake of the next generation of women in my family – and there are seven of them – I’m going to try again.
* An ethnic group well known for carrying defective BRCA 1 & 2 genes.