Display Settings:


Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Eur J Cancer. 1999 Dec;35(14):1954-62.

Screening for hereditary cancer and genetic testing, epitomized by breast cancer.

Author information

  • Cancer Genetics Team, Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey, U.K. ros@icr.ac.uk


The new genetics is having an impact on many areas of healthcare. Diversity in the genetic code accounts for differences in phenotypes between populations and it is becoming apparent that genetic differences may have a role in predisposition to and behaviour of disease. Genetic models suggest that there are two types of genetic predisposition to disease: the so-called high and low penetrance genes. At present, most of the impact on medicine has been from highly penetrant genes, and genetic testing for disease predisposition, particularly for diseases of late onset (e.g. certain cancers) is in its infancy. As a general statement, approximately 5-10% of common cancers are due to such highly penetrant genes. The category of genes that will become of increasing interest is that of the low penetrance genes. Often these are normal variations in genes that result in a slightly increased risk of disease. These are analogous to high blood pressure carrying an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Once rapid genetic analysis is available for these types of genes, such analysis would be analogous to taking someone's blood pressure in a general practitioner's (GP's) surgery to identify individuals at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This will produce a revolutionary change in the way we practise medicine. Genetic analysis will become faster and may therefore be more commonplace. It is possible to envisage an era when genetic analysis will become a routine part of primary care to identify changes in low penetrance genes that will confer a 'risk profile' for patients. This will then enable their primary care physicians to advise about primary prevention and even prescribe certain preventive drugs to decrease the risk of certain diseases occurring. This proactive rather than reactive style of practising medicine is potentially exciting, however it carries with it ethical, legal and social implications for how we deal with this new knowledge.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Icon for Elsevier Science
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk