Reducing the Risk of Gynecologic Cancer in Hereditary Breast Ovarian Cancer Syndrome Mutation Carriers: Moral Dilemmas and the Principle of Double Effect

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Abstract

Hereditary breast ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome is an autosomal dominant disease linked to mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in 90 percent of affected families. Female mutation carriers are highly susceptible to aggressive, often disseminated, usually fatal pelvic-abdominal carcinomatosis. This cancer risk can be markedly reduced by surgical removal of the internal gynecologic organs before the end of the fourth decade of life and by using estrogen–progestin formulations marketed for many years as combined oral contraceptives (COCs). Both risk-reducing methods are associated with unfavorable effects. Relying on the principle of double effect, this essay argues for the ethical justification of prophylactic surgery and the use of COC to reduce the risk of gynecologic cancer in HBOC syndrome mutation carriers. Summary: Hereditary breast ovarian cancer syndrome is an autosomal dominant disease linked to mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in most affected families. Female mutation carriers are highly susceptible to aggressive, often disseminated, usually fatal pelvic-abdominal carcinomatosis. This cancer risk can be markedly reduced by surgical removal of the internal gynecologic organs before the end of the fourth decade of life and by using estrogen-progestin formulations marketed for many years as combined oral contraceptives. Both risk-reducing methods are associated with unfavorable effects. Relying on the principle of double effect, this essay argues for the ethical justification for those unfavorable effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-240
Number of pages16
JournalLinacre Quarterly
Volume85
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy

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