Writer Elizabeth Wurtzel rose to fame at the age of 26 with her memoir Prozac Nation, an erudite, honest account of what it feels like to be a young, brilliant woman fighting depression. Recently, at age 46, she’s been writing about a different battle: her breast-cancer diagnosis.
In an op/ed piece called “The Breast Cancer Gene and Me" published in The New York Times, Wurtzel discusses being BRCA-positive. She has already endured a double mastectomy and eight rounds of chemotherapy, and now faces a course of radiation. All of this could have been avoided, she insists, had she been encouraged to undergo genetic testing before her cancer had the chance to develop.
Being of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, Wurtzel is at high risk of carrying the BRCA gene. She argues that all women of her ethnicity should be tested at a young age since they are at least ten times as likely as the general population to test positive.
Insurance companies have been resistant to cover testing unless a woman shows signs of developing breast cancer, but Wurtzel argues it’s too late by then. She cites the opinion of Elisa Port, chief of breast surgery at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York and author of The New Generation Breast Cancer Book, who agrees that all women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent should get tested. “Every BRCA patient that develops breast cancer is a failure of prevention,” Port told The New York Times.
Opponents of more widespread BRCA testing say it could lead to unnecessary surgeries, increased patient anxiety and out-of-control healthcare spending. But advocates say none of that matters if it saves lives.
What do you think? What level of knowledge do you demand when it comes to your genetic blueprint and its effect on your health?