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Psychosocial Issues in Inherited Breast Cancer Syndromes


    Genetic Counseling for Hereditary Predisposition to Breast Cancer

    Counseling for breast cancer risk typically involves individuals with family histories that are potentially attributable to BRCA1 or BRCA2. It also, however, may include individuals with family histories of Li-Fraumeni syndrome, ataxia-telangiectasia, Cowden syndrome, or Peutz-Jeghers syndrome.[79] (Refer to the High-Penetrance Breast and/or Ovarian Cancer Susceptibility Genes section of this summary for more information.)

    Management strategies for carriers may involve decisions about the nature, frequency, and timing of screening and surveillance procedures, chemoprevention, risk-reducing surgery, and use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The utilization of breast conservation and radiation as cancer therapy for women who are carriers may be influenced by knowledge of mutation status. (Refer to the Clinical management of BRCA mutation carriers section of this summary for more information.)

    Counseling also includes consideration of related psychosocial concerns and discussion of planned family communication and the responsibility to warn other family members about the possibility of having an increased risk of breast, ovarian, and other cancers. Data are emerging that individual responses to being tested as adults are influenced by the results status of other family members.[80,81] Management of anxiety and distress are important not only as quality-of-life factors, but also because high anxiety may interfere with the understanding and integration of complex genetic and medical information and adherence to screening.[20,21,82] The limited number of medical interventions with proven benefit to mutation carriers provides further basis for the expectation that mutation carriers may experience increased anxiety, depression, and continuing uncertainty following disclosure of genetic test results.[83] Formal, objective evaluation of these outcomes are now emerging. (Refer to the Emotional Outcomes and Behavioral Outcomes sections of this summary for more information.)

    Published descriptions of counseling programs for BRCA1 (and subsequently for BRCA2) testing include strategies for gathering a family history, assessing eligibility for testing, communicating the considerable volume of relevant information about breast/ovarian cancer genetics and associated medical and psychosocial risks and benefits, and discussion of specialized ethical considerations about confidentiality and family communication.[3,84,85,86,87,88,89,90] Participant distress, intrusive thoughts about cancer, coping style, and social support were assessed in many prospective testing candidates. The psychosocial outcomes evaluated in these programs have included changes in knowledge about the genetics of breast/ovarian cancer after counseling, risk comprehension, psychological adjustment, family and social functioning, and reproductive and health behaviors.[91] A Dutch study of communication processes and satisfaction levels of counselees going through cancer genetic counseling for inherited cancer syndromes indicated that asking more medical questions (by the counselor), providing more psychosocial information, and longer eye contact by the counselor were associated with lower satisfaction levels. The provision of medical information by the counselor was most highly related to satisfaction and perception that needs have been fulfilled.[92] Additional research is needed on how to adequately address the emotional needs and feelings of control of counselees.


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