Autonomy Challenges in Epigenetic Risk-Stratified Cancer Screening: How Can Patient Decision Aids Support Informed Consent?

J Pers Med. 2019 Feb 18;9(1):14. doi: 10.3390/jpm9010014.


Information of an individual's epigenome can be useful in cancer screening to enable personalised decision making on participation, treatment options and further screening strategies. However, adding this information might result in complex risk predictions on multiple diseases, unsolicited findings and information on (past) environmental exposure and behaviour. This complicates informed consent procedures and may impede autonomous decision-making. In this article we investigate and identify the specific features of epigenetic risk-stratified cancer screening that challenge the current informed consent doctrine. Subsequently we describe current and new informed consent models and the principle of respect for autonomy and argue for a specific informed consent model for epigenetic risk-stratified screening programmes. Next, we propose a framework that guides the development of Patient Decision Aids (PDAs) to support informed consent and promote autonomous choices in the specific context of epigenetic cancer screening programmes.

Keywords: cancer screening programmes; epigenetics; informed consent; patient autonomy; patient decision aids; risk prediction.

Publication types

  • Review

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