Breast Cancer Gene Tests for Girls: Too Soon?

Dr. George Sledge Jr., a professor of oncology at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, echoes Weitzel's sentiments.

"The psychological effects on a teenager of finding they might develop a life-altering disease, or predisposition for a disease, can be devastating," he says. "Teenagers, as any parent can tell you, are wired differently than adults, and are simply not sufficiently mature to handle it."

Although testing positive for the altered genes is daunting for even the most mature of women, discovering that you are carrying the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene at age 40 leaves you with a list of viable treatment options that just aren't available for young girls. While older women can undergo a lumpectomy or a bilateral mastectomy, the only thing a young girl can do is sit and wait.

"As I see it, the main reason to not go testing in minors relates to the lack of modifiable lifestyle changes that are known to work," says Dr. Lisa Carey, medical director of the University of North Carolina Breast Center, adding, "There's nothing for them to do about it."

Many other doctors share Carey's opinion, believing there is no benefit to testing minors for adult-onset diseases.

"We can't do anything of benefit for a 15-year-old, therapeutically," notes Sledge. "Ordering a test that doesn't allow you to do affect outcome, borders on the cruel and irresponsible."

Choosing to Know

With this in mind, many might conclude that ignorance truly is bliss when it comes to breast cancer tests on the young.

But Scarlett disagrees. She says she receives much criticism from people for having her daughter tested at such a young age, but feels that "sticking your head in the sand" is the sharper end of a double-edged sword.

"The bottom line is, knowledge is power, and if you have this information, you can do things throughout the years," she says. "It's absolutely heartbreaking. It's a burden in my heart that I have chosen to bear because someday, it will benefit her that I know about this."

For Davidson, however, not knowing is the only option at this point in her and her daughter's life.

"I could get her tested and find out she has the gene and then worry for six, seven, eight years, and then find out that medicine has advanced and I worried for nothing," she says.

For more information about hereditary breast cancer, visit the Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) Web site.

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