A Right to Her Genes

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A Right to Her Genes
by
Susannah Gal
Department of Biological Sciences
State University of New York at Binghamton
and
Jessie W. Klein
Science Department
Middlesex Community College

“But, doctor, what should I do?”
Michelle was sitting in her OB-GYN’s office, having just confronted him with the dilemma she was facing. “My mother died of breast cancer when I was little and now I find out that her mother, my grandmother, has bone cancer and my grandmother’s brother and my grandfather both have lung cancer. My mother was 40 when she died and I’m almost that now myself. Should I have my breasts removed to prevent me from getting breast cancer?” The doctor tried to calm her down and clarify the family tree. As far as Michelle knew, her mother was the oldest of four girls and two boys in the family and the only one to have cancer. In fact, her grandfather also had a brother and two sisters, and none of them showed any signs of cancer. “It’s not strong enough evidence to suggest you should remove your breasts,” the doctor said. “Actually, breast cancer susceptibility is not linked to lung cancer. Lung cancer, especially, is usually linked to environmental factors, like smoking or exposure to asbestos. Does your father smoke?” the doctor asked. “Yes,” Michelle replied. “But I don’t want to get cancer and have my two little boys watch me die the way I did with my mother.” The doctor suggested Michelle gather more information about her family tree and then come back and he would contact a genetic counselor about the possibility of genetic testing. A month later, Michelle went to see her doctor again after having talked with her grandmother extensively about the family. She had uncovered two very interesting family facts. First, the man she thought was her mother’s father was not her biological grandfather, but his brother. Her real grandfather had no history of cancer. Second, Michelle found out her mother had an estranged older sister, Anne, who had recently...
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