Angelina Jolie and the One Percent | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network
As a result, many women overestimate their breast cancer risk, choose double mastectomies when cancer is only detected in one breast and there is no medical reason for doing so, and experience overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and an overabundance of self-surveillance. Genetic testing now blasts into the risk-focused cancer surveillance market with the joyful promise of proactive, empowered, life-saving decision-making — a promise they may help to deliver for people in the one percent. But with more than 1000 mutations already identified in the BRCA genes (and others yet to be discovered), most genetic profiles and treatment options are not so straightforward.
The value of preventive measures for people at high risk notwithstanding, risk itself is a valuable commodity. The stock for Myriad Genetics — the company that presently owns the patents on the breast cancer genes and monopolizes the market on BRCA analysis (e.g., trademarked as BRACAnalysis) — went up 3 percent the day of the op-ed to a three-year high with twice the usual trading volume. Myriad markets both to consumers directly and to physicians and other health practitioners
The Angelina Jolie case opens the door for thinking about what is at stake in the cancer wars especially for people at increased risk. Yet Angelina Jolie is in a unique and privileged position. She can get the best care, top surgeons, family help, and everything else that comes with power and wealth. For the rest of us, tough medical decisions come with other costs. But we all deserve quality information, evidence-based medicine, and access to comprehensive and coordinated health care that is free from conflicts of interest and the profit motives of commercial enterprises that are eager take advantage of our fears while selling us superficial “solutions” to our problems.