Genetic testing of children is a somewhat controversial subject. On the one hand, if there is a clear benefit to the child then genetic testing might be recommended. It could be a valuable tool that would indicate the proper preventative measures needed to treat a particular disease. The other side of the argument is that testing a child for a genetically heritable disease can cause stress to that child, which can easily be avoided if the tests are not preformed. This is especially true when the disease that is being tested for is one that doesn’t have a clear prevention strategy. Genetic testing for melanoma lies somewhere between these two extremes.
There is a genetic test that can identify a mutation called CDKN2A/p16. The presence of this mutation increases the risk that a person will develop a specific and very serious form of skin cancer called melanoma. Parents were tested to see if their genes contained the mutation. Those who did have it were given the choice about if they wanted to have their children tested to see if their genes contained the mutation as well. The majority of the group, 86.9%, decided in favor of having their children undergo a genetic test to determine their risk of developing melanoma.
The reason why the majority of parents who had the CDKN2A/p16 mutation were in favor of having their children tested to identify if they had inherited the same mutation might be due to the fact that melanoma is a disease that can be prevented. Everyone, with or without that mutation, is recommended to wear sunscreen, hats, and clothing that covers a majority of the skin if they are going to be out in the sun. There are certain hours of the day when the sun is strongest, and people can avoid sunbathing during those hours.
A child who has the CDKN2A/p16 mutation, and is aware of it, can take special precautions to prevent melanoma from forming. Perhaps his first summer job should be behind the counter at a fast food restaurant, instead of as a lifeguard. However, without the genetic test, the child would be unaware that he had a higher risk of melanoma, and may not have made the lifestyle choices that would help him to prevent developing it. And, of course, when that child grows up and has children of his own, he will be aware that his children may carry the CDKN2A/p16 mutation as well, and can advise preventative measures.< Return To Blog