Ethics and Genetics: Examining a Crossroads in Nursing Through a Case Study

Laura Curr Beamer, PhD, DNP, AOCNP®, AOCNS®


Background: The field of genetics and genomics is rapidly expanding, particularly in oncology. Genetics and genomics can lead to ethical concerns. Oncology nurses must balance the need for evidence-based oncology care with that of ethical care for patients and their family members.

Objectives: The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of cancer genetics and ethics and their impact on oncology nurses, patients, and families.

Methods: A case study of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is offered to illustrate the impact of a hereditary cancer syndrome on several generations of a family and ethical issues surrounding cancer genetics. In addition, a brief review of FAP, gene and tissue biobanking, and genome editing is provided.

Findings: Genetics, genomics, and pharmacogenomics are ubiquitous in cancer diagnosis and management. Nurses must be knowledgeable about the ethical issues related to cancer genetics and oncology care to advocate for the needs of patients with cancer. Communication with and education of patients and their families before germline genetic testing may reduce the emergence of ethical dilemmas.

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