Sunday, September 16, 2007

The BRCA Gene and Pre-emptive Surgery

The New York Times has an article about genetic screening and the search for the hereditary BRCA gene, the genetic marker identified as the culprit responsible for a large percentage of breast cancer cases. The BRCA genes (BRCA-1 and BRCA-2) have been in the news in the past, not just because of their link to breast cancer, but because they were effectively patented by Myriad Genetics - the patent being primarily based on the series of test that Myriad developed to "locate" the genes. These patents were initially used to control any research that involves those genes, thus prohibiting a lot of other work being done on breast cancer.
The absolute linkage of genetics to disease, a hermetically sealed narrative of cause-and-effect, remains dominant in the reportage and popular understanding of cancer, despite more and more research that points to the scientific inaccuracy of the single-gene theory.
Barbara Ehrenreich has written a terrificly critical account of the cult of breast cancer "awareness from her own experience with the disease - identifying the problems of how "prevention" is imagined when it comes to breast cancer. "Prevention" is explicitly constructed through the promotion of screening - both genetic testing and physical (mammograms). Prevention equals detection. As Ehrenreich points out, this is not accurately prevention, which would require much more investment in locating the complex causes of cancer. And as she also points out, this presents a conflict of interest for pharmaceutical companies that seek to make a profit off of potential "cures" as well as continuing the chemical dependence driving large parts of our economy, at the expense of our bodies. Prevention isn't the desired outcome, it's treatment. And genetics provides a perfect alibi.

posted by ryan griffis  # 9:47 AM

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