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Psychosocial Issues in Inherited Breast Cancer Syndromes


    There is a small but growing body of literature on the use of decision aids as an adjunct to standard genetic counseling to assist patients in making informed decisions about genetic testing. One study measured the effectiveness of a decision aid for BRCA1/BRCA2 genetic testing given to women at the end of their first genetic counseling consultation. At 1 week and 6 months follow-up, the decision aid had no effect on informed choice, decisional regret, or actual genetic testing decision. However, women who received the decision aid had significantly higher knowledge levels and felt more informed about genetic testing than women who received the control pamphlet. The decision aid also helped those women who did not have their blood drawn for genetic testing at the first visit to clarify their values about their testing decision.[125]

    Preferences for delivery of breast cancer genetic testing are reported in one study [123] to include pretest counseling conducted by a genetic counselor (42%) or oncologist (22%) rather than by a primary care physician (6%), nurse (12%), or gynecologist (5%). Patients in that study preferred results disclosure by an oncologist. Younger women especially expressed a need for individual consideration of their personal values and goals or potential emotional reactions to testing; 67% believed emotional support and counseling were a necessary part of posttest counseling. Most women (82%) wanted to be able to self-refer for genetic testing, without a physician referral.

    Family Effects

    Family communication about genetic testing and hereditary risk

    Family communication about genetic testing for cancer susceptibility, and specifically about the results of BRCA1/BRCA2 genetic testing, is complex; there are few systematic data available on this topic. Gender appears to be an important variable in family communication and psychological outcomes. One study documented that female carriers are more likely to disclose their status to other family members (especially sisters and children aged 14–18 years) than are male carriers.[126] Among males, noncarriers were more likely than carriers to tell their sisters and children the results of their tests. BRCA1/BRCA2 carriers who disclosed their results to sisters had a slight decrease in psychological distress, compared with a slight increase in distress for carriers who chose not to tell their sisters. Findings from other studies suggest that there may be more communication about inherited breast and ovarian cancer risk among female family members than between female and male relatives (e.g., between brothers and sisters and/or mothers and sons).[59,127] One study found that men reported greater difficulty disclosing mutation-positive results to family members in comparison to women (90% vs. 70%).[128]


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