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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Genetics of Breast and Ovarian Cancer (PDQ®): Genetics - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Psychosocial Issues in Inherited Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndromes

Table 13. Predictors Associated with Uptake of Genetic Testing (GT) continued...

Factors associated with declining genetic counseling and testing

There is evidence that primary reasons for declining testing involves being childless, which reduces any family motivations for testing; and concerns about the negative ramifications of testing, including difficulty retaining insurance or concerns about personal health.

Limited data are available about the characteristics of at-risk individuals who decline to be tested or have never been tested. It is difficult to access samples of test decliners because they may be reluctant to participate in research studies. Studies of genetic testing uptake are difficult to compare because people may decline at different points and with different amounts of pretest education and counseling. One study found that 43% of affected and unaffected individuals from hereditary breast/ovarian cancer families who completed a baseline interview regarding testing declined to be tested. Most individuals who declined testing chose not to participate in educational sessions. Decliners were more likely to be male and be unmarried, and have fewer relatives with breast cancer. Decliners who had high levels of cancer-related stress had higher levels of depression. Decliners lost to follow-up were significantly more likely to be affected with cancer.[46]

Another study looked at a small number (n = 13) of women decliners who carried a 25% to 50% probability of harboring a BRCA mutation; these nontested women were more likely to be childless and to have higher levels of education. This study showed that most women decided not to undergo the test after serious deliberation about the risks and benefits. Satisfaction with frequent surveillance was given as one reason for nontesting by most of these women.[47] Other reasons for declining included having no children and becoming acquainted with breast/ovarian cancer in the family relatively early in their lives.[46,47]

A third study evaluated characteristics of 34 individuals who declined BRCA1/2 testing in a large multicenter study in the United Kingdom. Decliners were younger than a national sample of test acceptors, and female decliners had lower mean scores on a measure of cancer worry. Although 78% of test decliners/deferrers felt that their health was at risk, they reported that learning about their BRCA1/2 mutation status would cause them to worry about the following:

  • Their children's health (76%).
  • Their life insurance (60%).
  • Their own health (56%).
  • Loss of their job (5%).
  • Receiving less screening if they did not carry a BRCA1/2 mutation (62%).
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