Azara Blog: Some women allegedly lie about family history of breast cancer

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Date published: 2005/04/21

The BBC says:

Women are inventing family histories of breast cancer in order to have treatment, doctors have revealed.

Geneticists in Manchester say this can lead to patients having surgery to remove their breasts, only for doctors to discover that it was unnecessary.

They say the women, 1% of patients, are likely to have a psychological disorder similar to Munchausen's Syndrome.

Around 5% of the 40,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the UK every year are linked to high-risk genes.

The geneticists at St Mary's Hospital said a small number, around 1%, of women claiming the most serious family risk of breast cancer - where three of four relatives develop the disease when young - were inventing the history.

Women who do have this kind of family history sometimes opt for preventative treatment, which may include surgery to remove the breasts.

But experts warn that, if patient's claims are not investigated, they may undergo unnecessary surgery, and cause fears among relatives that they may have a high risk of cancer.

Professor Gareth Evans, a consultant in medical genetics at St Mary's hospital in Manchester, said: "The women should go through a process of risk assessment with a geneticist, and also have a psychological assessment.

"With all of those in place women should no longer be getting surgery in that situation.

"Unfortunately it appears that women still are getting surgery, so some surgeons are still not going through the protocol as they should."

Professor Evans said restrictions under the Data Protection Act have made it harder for doctors to verify what patients are saying if they will not consent to having their family histories investigated.

It should be difficult for doctors to trawl through family histories. Given the small fraction of cases where allegedly this will do the patient some good, this is an overwhelming and blatant trampling of other people's rights. Why should a mother (etc.) have her medical history examined without her consent or knowledge just because some doctor allegedly thinks her daughter might be lying?

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