On 10 September the US genetic testing company 'Myriad Genetics' launched an advertising campaign aimed at prompting women who have a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer to discuss genetic testing options with their doctor. The company owns exclusive rights to the sale of a genetic test - BRACAnalysis - which looks for mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, two genes which respectively confer up to 85 per cent and 40 per cent lifetime chances of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer, yet account for just 2-5 per cent of cases.
Gregory Critchfield, president of Myriad, has said that the purpose of the campaign is 'to save lives', arguing that the television advert will encourage those who may be at risk to seek advice from their doctor.
However critics worry that the advert, which carries the slogan 'be ready for cancer', will cause unnecessary anxiety for some patients. 'It really preys on the fears of our society, and one of those fears is getting breast cancer', Ellen Matloff, Director of genetic counselling at the Yale Cancer Centre, told the New York Times. The attorney general of US state Connecticut has ordered an investigation of the claims made by Myriad in the advert.
Questions were also raised in 2002 when a five-month test of the same advert in Denver and Atlanta showed that testing or referral to genetic counsellors was boosted, though not necessarily in the women most likely to benefit. In spite of this, Critchfield believes that today's doctors and genetic counsellors are better educated about genetic testing. 'We are in a far different place today than we were then', he said.
In the UK and elsewhere, genetic counselling and the option of BRCA1/2 testing is only offered to women considered to have an increased risk of carrying a gene mutation based on their family history, such as several affected relatives, and/or early onset cases in relatives.
Sources and References
Criticism of breast cancer genetic test advertisement