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Women With Breast Cancer Can Now USE IVF To Spare Their Daughters

Women with a family history of breast cancer could be allowed to use IVF to have children free of the disease. These new proposals that is due to be discussed by the government's fertility watchdog tomorrow for approval. // WOMEN with inherited forms of breast cancer will be allowed to select embryos free from genes that can cause the disease.

This landmark ruling from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) would permit thousands of women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes to spare their daughters a genetic inheritance that confers an 80 per cent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. The move, which also applies to a third gene that predisposes to bowel cancer, has also won the backing of the watchdog’s ethics and law committee, and is expected to be confirmed at a meeting in Belfast.

People who know that they have the BRCA1, BRCA2 or HNPCC colon cancer genes will be able to seek IVF treatment, during which a single cell is removed from the embryos for testing. Then only the embryos without those genes would be used for fertility.

This decision is expected to deepen the already existing controversy over “designer babies”, as it now significantly extends over the inherited conditions that can be prevented by “cherry-picking” the embryos. The screening procedure, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), is at present approved only for mutations that lead to at least a 90 per cent chance of developing a disease.

The genes that are covered by the recommendations carry a lifetime cancer risk of 80%, which can be substantially reduced by preventive surgeries like double mastectomy, that is chosen by many women who test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Many critics feel that the move has marked a further step down a “slippery slope”, which was permitting screening for ever less serious genetic traits. Patient groups, however, welcomed the recommendation as a measure that would help fami
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