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


One study has examined these issues among high-risk men recruited from FORCE and Craigslist (a bulletin board Web site) (N = 228).[178] Similar to the previous studies of women, only 20% of men were aware of PGD prior to survey participation. In a multivariate analysis, those who selected the "other" option for possible benefits of PGD compared with those who selected from several predetermined options (e.g., having children without genetic mutations) and those who considered PGD in the context of religion (as opposed to health and safety) were less likely to report that they would ever consider using PGD.

Cultural/Community Effects

The recognition that BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations are prevalent, not only in breast/ovarian cancer families but also in some ethnic groups,[179] has led to considerable discussion of the ethical, psychological, and other implications of having one's ethnicity be a factor in determination of disease predisposition. Fears of genetic reductionism and the creation of a genetic underclass [180] have been voiced. Questions about the impact on the group of being singled out as having genetic vulnerability to breast cancer have been raised. There is also confusion about who gives or withholds permission for the group to be involved in studies of their genetic identity. These issues challenge traditional views on informed consent as a function of individual autonomy.[181]

A growing literature on the unique factors influencing a variety of cultural subgroups suggests the importance of developing culturally specific genetic counseling and educational approaches.[76,182,183,184,185,186] The inclusion of members within the community of interest (e.g., breast cancer survivors, advocates, and community leaders) may enhance the development of culturally tailored genetic counseling materials.[77] One study showed that participation in any genetic counseling (culturally mediated or standard approaches) reduced perceived risk of developing breast cancer.[187]

Ethical Concerns

The human implications of the ethical issues raised by the advent of genetic testing for breast/ovarian cancer susceptibility are described in case studies,[188] essays,[83,189] and research reports. Issues about rights and responsibilities in families concerning the spread of information about genetic risk promise to be major ethical and legal dilemmas in the coming decades.

Studies have shown that 62% of studied family members were aware of the family history and that 88% of hereditary breast/ovarian cancer family members surveyed have significant concerns about privacy and confidentiality. Expressed concern about cancer in third-degree relatives, or relatives farther removed, was about the same as that for first- or second-degree relatives of the proband.[190] Only half of surveyed first-degree relatives of women with breast or ovarian cancer felt that written permission should be required to disclose BRCA1/BRCA2 test results to a spouse or immediate family member. Attitudes toward testing varied by ethnicity, previous exposure to genetic information, age, optimism, and information style. Altruism is a factor motivating genetic testing in some people.[19] Many professional groups have made recommendations regarding informed consent.[19,34,87,191,192] There is some evidence that not all practitioners are aware of or follow these guidelines.[18] Research shows that many BRCA1/BRCA2 genetic testing consent forms do not fulfill recommendations by professional groups about the 11 areas that should be addressed,[193] and they omit highly relevant points of information.[18] In a study of women with a history of breast or ovarian cancer, the interviews yielded that the women reported feeling inadequately prepared for the ethical dilemmas they encountered when imparting genetic information to family members.[194] These data suggest that more preparation about disclosure to family members before testing reduces the emotional burden of disseminating genetic information to family members. Patients and health care providers would benefit from enhanced consideration of the ethical issues of warning family members about hereditary cancer risk. (Refer to the PDQ summaries Cancer Genetics Risk Assessment and Counseling and Cancer Genetics Overview for more information about the ethics of cancer genetics and genetic testing.)


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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