Risk-Adjusted Prevention. Perspectives on the Governance of Entitlements to Benefits in the Case of Genetic (Breast Cancer) Risks

Recent Results Cancer Res. 2021:218:47-66. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-63749-1_5.


This article is a revised version of our proposal for the establishment of the legal concept of risk-adjusted prevention in the German healthcare system to regulate access to risk-reduction measures for persons at high and moderate genetic cancer risk (Meier et al. Risikoadaptierte Prävention'. Governance Perspective für Leistungsansprüche bei genetischen (Brustkrebs-)Risiken, Springer, Wiesbaden, 2018). The German context specifics are summarized to enable the source text to be used for other country-specific healthcare systems. Establishing such a legal concept is relevant to all universal and free healthcare systems similar to Germany's. Disease risks can be determined with increasing precision using bioinformatics and biostatistical innovations ('big data'), due to the identification of pathogenic germ line mutations in cancer risk genes as well as non-genetic factors and their interactions. These new technologies open up opportunities to adapt therapeutic and preventive measures to the individual risk profile of complex diseases in a way that was previously unknown, enabling not only adequate treatment but in the best case, prevention. Access to risk-reduction measures for carriers of genetic risks is generally not regulated in healthcare systems that guarantee universal and equal access to healthcare benefits. In many countries, including Austria, Denmark, the UK and the US, entitlement to benefits is essentially linked to the treatment of already manifest disease. Issues around claiming benefits for prophylactic measures involve not only evaluation of clinical options (genetic diagnostics, chemoprevention, risk-reduction surgery), but the financial cost and-from a social ethics perspective-the relationship between them. Section 1 of this chapter uses the specific example of hereditary breast cancer to show why from a medical, social-legal, health-economic and socio-ethical perspective, regulated entitlement to benefits is necessary for persons at high and moderate risk of cancer. Section 2 discusses the medical needs of persons with genetic cancer risks and goes on to develop the healthy sick model which is able to integrate the problems of the different disciplines into one scheme and to establish criteria for the legal acknowledgement of persons at high and moderate (breast cancer) risks. In the German context, the social-legal categories of classical therapeutic medicine do not adequately represent preventive measures as a regular service within the healthcare system. We propose risk-adjusted prevention as a new legal concept based on the heuristic healthy sick model. This category can serve as a legal framework for social law regulation in the case of persons with genetic cancer risks. Risk-adjusted prevention can be established in principle in any healthcare system. Criteria are also developed in relation to risk collectives and allocation (Sects. 3, 4, 5).

Keywords: BRCA1/2; Big data; Entitlements to benefit; Genetic risk; Health policy; International health law; Preventive measures; Systems medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Oncogenes