Skip to content

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Psychosocial Issues in Inherited Breast Cancer Syndromes


    Limited data are available about the characteristics of at-risk individuals who decline to be or have never been tested. It is difficult to access samples of test decliners since they are people who also may be reluctant to participate in research studies. Studies of testing 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 completing a baseline interview regarding testing declined. Most individuals declining testing chose not to participate in educational sessions. Decliners were more likely to be male and unmarried and had fewer relatives affected with breast cancer. Those 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.[29] Another study looked at a small number (n = 13) of women decliners who carry a 25% to 50% probability of harboring a BRCA mutation and found that these nontested women were more likely to be childless and have a higher educational level. This study showed that most women had 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 in most of these women.[30] Other reasons for declining included having no children and becoming acquainted with breast/ovarian cancer in the family relatively early in their lives.[29,30] A third study evaluated characteristics of 34 individuals who declined BRCA1/BRCA2 testing in a large multicenter study in the United Kingdom. Decliners were younger compared with 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/BRCA2 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/BRCA2 mutation (62%).

    Today on WebMD

    Breast Cancer Overview
    From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
    Dealing with breast cancer
    Get answers to your questions.
    woman having mammogram
    Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
    woman undergoing breast cancer test
    Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
    Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
    Resolved To Quit Smoking
    Woman getting mammogram
    Screening Tests for Women
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    serious woman
    what is your cancer risk
    10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow