, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 231-244
Date: 03 Nov 2011

Much more than a gene: hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, reproductive choices and family life

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Abstract

This article presents the results of a study that investigates the way in which carriers of a mutation on the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene, associated with a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer, make their reproductive decisions. Using semi-structured interviews, the study explored the way in which these persons reflected on the acceptability of taking the risk of transmitting this mutation to the next generation, the arguments they used in favor or against taking that risk, and in the light of these arguments, their opinion on the acceptability of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) as a reproductive option. The findings suggest that when carriers are planning to have a(nother) child, they are mainly concerned by the risk of transmitting ‘much more than a gene’: essentially painful experiences not only with respect to health, such as undergoing cancer surveillance or combatting one’s own illness, but also with regards to family life, such as witnessing the illness and death of a close relative, encountering difficulties in finding a partner or reconsidering one’s plans to have a family. As for opinions concerning the acceptability of PGD as a reproductive option, opinions about personal recourse were varied but all expressed the understanding that PGD should be made available to those persons who consider it their best option.