Breast cancer genes and the gendering of knowledge : science by Sahra Gibbon

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By Sahra Gibbon

The booklet examines the social and cultural context of recent genetic wisdom linked to breast melanoma. It seems at how this information and applied sciences are used and acquired in contrasting social arenas - melanoma genetic clinics and a breast melanoma learn charity.

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This is still one of the main focuses of the family history clinic which is run mostly by specialist nurses and provides regular examination, monitoring and mammography for those with a number of affected relatives in their family, who may or may not be taking part in trials. The more specialist cancer genetic clinic, where several consultant oncologists trained in genetics work, along with a number of nurse specialists and some parttime locum GP’s, monitors those at ‘higher’ genetic risk. This clinic also sees new referrals – a group which had increased several fold in the few years prior to my fieldwork in the hospital.

At the same time the possibility cannot be discounted that anticipating a genetic test was perceived as simply part of or necessary to being a patient who would be seen, screened and generally looked after on a routine basis. Whatever the source of such anticipated interventions, genetic testing clearly provides a powerful symbol of the precision and expertise that many of those I met associated with this medical speciality, holding out the hope of providing concrete answers in the midst of widespread fear and anxiety about the risk of breast cancer.

This is particularly so when there is a certain degree of fear, for at least some women, associated with other modes of being vigilant, such as breast self-examination. The desire to be on a screening programme is therefore one of the crucial factors behind many women’s decision to seek a referral to the cancer genetic clinic, which for a significant number often appears to be a way of obtaining mammograms. Not surprisingly some women also talked about another technology which was more directly associated with visualising genetic danger.

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