Monday, January 10, 2011

Would You Want to Know?

If you could find out what diseases you might have in the future, would you want to know? Researchers at Tufts Medical Center in Boston recently asked people this very question.

The survey they conducted, and whose results were published in a recent issue of Health Economics, asked 1,463 participants whether they would take a blood test to learn whether they would develop Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, breast cancer, or prostate cancer in the future. They were also asked how much they would pay for that test ("Willingness-to-pay for predictive tests with no immediate treatment implications: a survey of US residents").

Most participants in this hypothetical scenario said that they would want to know whether disease would strike in the future, particularly prostate or breast cancer. They would also be willing to pay up to several hundred dollars to find out.

About a quarter of participants, however, said they would not want to take the blood test. Researchers found that those who were healthier, older, well-educated, and female were more likely to decline the test. "Major concerns expressed included the cost of the test, living with the knowledge of one's disease risk, and the lack of preventive measures [to stop the disease from occurring]," a press release on the survey explained.

Is it better to know, or not to know, what illness you might develop in the future? For some people, it's easier not to know, to not add another worry to their life. I was surprised to learn that most people do want to know what diseases they might develop, though, even if they can't do anything to stop them.

Knowledge is power, and the participants that would want to take the blood test said that they would make the most of their time if they knew they were slated for a life-altering illness in the future, spending more time with family and traveling, for example.

A serious illness brings its own clarity to a person, stripping away trivial concerns, and refocusing their energies on the people and things they care about most. I wish more people had this clarity - without any traumatic trigger such as illness.

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