For five years, Laura Berry lived with the knowledge that she would likely develop breast or ovarian cancer.
She underwent a genetic screening after losing one breast to the disease and finding a lump in one of her ovaries. The test showed a genetic mutation that made her susceptible to certain cancers. After her mother and aunt died of pancreatic cancer, Berry took the drastic step of having her healthy breast removed last spring.
Berry's situation is becoming more common as DNA screening becomes available for a wide spectrum of diseases, including colon and thyroid cancers and melanoma. Positive test results engender a unique mental burden. DNA tests can suggest treatment options, many patients say, but they don't provide easy answers. Indeed, many people worry that positive test results will only cause them anxiety.
However, one study suggests genetic screening can help people feel better and rarely makes them feel worse. Researchers at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., followed a group of women for six months after they were tested for a genetic mutation like Laura Berry's. The study found that women who tested negative were happier at the end of the study than they were at the outset. Those who tested positive usually felt the same as when they started.