Do you want to know your future?

Today I am beginning a new subject for the Genetizen blog: genetic testing. My postings will include discussions of what types of genetic tests are available, what kind of results you might expect to see, how reliable the tests are, and how the results of these tests might affect your life--and the lives of family members. I'd like to start with a somewhat long article sent to me by a genetic counselor. Here's an excerpt from Pre-vivor, a personal view into the strange new world of genetic testing, published online 13 November 2005.

Scientists are identifying a genetic component to more diseases every year. Already, they have found specific mutations that put some people at high risk for breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's, to name just a few.

What's it like to get this kind of crystal-ball information about your medical future? I was given a small glimpse last year, when -- as a completely healthy 46-year-old -- I learned I had a genetic mutation that gave me very high odds of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

My husband was right that our lives had just changed, but not in any way that I understood or could articulate. This wasn't a cancer diagnosis, but it was, what? A diagnosis of the statistical probability of cancer? I had no idea how to respond. It was profoundly disorienting. On the one hand, I felt suddenly doomed. I felt like there was a time bomb ticking inside me. On the other hand, I was completely healthy -- as healthy as I'd been five minutes earlier. Was I doomed? Was I healthy? Which was it?

The ripple effects can be more complicated than you might think. My sister decided to get tested for BRCA too after I received my test results. Her test was negative -- good news, no mutation. But ironically, her good news ended up being far more devastating than my bad news.

You can read the full, very powerful article, at http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/11/13/CMG47F9SC81.DTL

Marie Godfrey, PhD

Genetizen's blog