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Psychosocial Issues in Inherited Breast Cancer Syndromes


    There is a small but growing body of literature regarding psychological effects in men who have a family history of breast cancer and who are considering or have had BRCA testing. A qualitative study of 22 men from 16 high-risk families in Ireland revealed that more men in the study with daughters were tested than men without daughters. These men reported little communication with relatives about the illness, with some men reporting being excluded from discussion about cancer among female family members. Some men in the study also reported actively avoiding open discussion with daughters and other relatives.[140] In contrast, a study of 59 men testing positive for a BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation found that most men participated in family discussions about breast and/or ovarian cancer. However, fewer than half of the men participated in family discussions about risk-reducing surgery. The main reason given for having BRCA testing was concern for their children and a need for certainty about whether they could have transmitted the mutation to their children. In this study, 79% of participating men had at least one daughter. Most of these men described how their relationships had been strengthened after receipt of BRCA results, helping communication in the family and greater understanding.[141] Men in both studies expressed fears of developing cancer themselves. Irish men especially reported fear of cancer in sexual organs.

    Family functioning

    In a study of 212 individuals from 13 hereditary breast and ovarian cancer families who received genetic counseling and were offered BRCA1/BRCA2 testing for documented mutation in the family, individuals who were not tested were found 6 to 9 months later to have significantly greater increases in expressiveness and cohesiveness compared with those who were tested. Persons who were randomized to a client-centered versus problem-solving genetic counseling intervention had a significantly greater reduction in conflict, regardless of the test decision.[32]

    Partners of high-risk women

    Many studies have looked at the psychological effects in women of having a high risk of developing cancer, either on the basis of carrying a BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation or having a strong family history of cancer. Some studies have also examined the effects on the partners of such women.


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