Ethical, social and economic issues in familial breast cancer: a compilation of views from the E.C. Biomed II Demonstration Project

M. Steel, E. Smyth, H. Vasen, D. Eccles, G. Evans, P. Moller, S. Hodgson, D. Stoppa-Lyonnet, J. Chang-Claude, M. Caligo, P. Morrison, N. Haites

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Demand for clinical services for familial breast cancer is continuing to rise across Europe. Service provision is far from uniform and, in most centres, its evolution has been determined by local conditions, specifically by local research interests, rather than by central planning. However, in a number of countries there is evidence of progress towards co-ordinated development and audit of clinics providing risk assessment, counselling, screening and, in some cases, prophylactic intervention. Much important information should emerge from continued observation and comparative assessment of these developments. In most countries for which relevant data are available, there is a distinct bias towards higher social class among those who avail themselves of clinic facilities (in line with findings from many health-promotion initiatives). This should addressed when considering future organisation of clinical services. Molecular genetic studies designed to identify the underlying mutations responsible for familial breast cancer are not generally regarded as part of the clinical service and are funded through research grants (if at all). Economic considerations suggest that there is a case for keeping this policy under review. Familial cancers throw into sharp relief certain ethical and legal issues that have received much recent attention from government advisory bodies, patients' representatives, professional commentators and the popular media. Two are of particular importance; first, the right to gain access to medical records of relatives, in order to provide accurate risk assessment for a given family member, versus the right to privacy in respect of personal medical information and, second, the obligation (or otherwise) to inform family members of their risk status if they have not actively sought that knowledge. The legal position seems to vary from country to country and, in many cases, is unclear. In view of pressures to establish uniform approaches to medical confidentiality across the EC, it is important to evaluate the experience of participants in this Demonstration Programme and to apply the principle of 'non-malfeasance' in formulating regulations that should govern future practice in this field. Data on economic aspects of familial breast cancer are remarkably sparse and outdated. As evidence accrues on the influence of screening and intervention programmes on morbidity and mortality, there is a strong case for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of different models of service provision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-131
Number of pages7
JournalDisease Markers
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 1999


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