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Cancer Genetics Risk Assessment and Counseling (PDQ®): Genetics - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Education and Counseling About Risk / Risk Communication

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Communication Strategies

Recent descriptive examination of the process of cancer genetic counseling has found that counseling sessions are predominantly focused on the biomedical teaching required to inform clients of their choices and to put genetic findings in perspective but that attention to psychosocial issues does not detract from teaching goals and may enhance satisfaction in clients undergoing counseling. For instance, one study of communication patterns in 167 pretest counseling sessions for BRCA1 found the sessions to have a predominantly biomedical and educational focus;[14] however, this approach was client focused, with the counselor and client contributing equally to the dialogue. These authors note that there was a marked diversity in counselor styles, both between counselors and within different sessions, for each counselor. The finding of a didactic style was corroborated by other researchers who examined observer-rated content checklists and videotape of 51 counseling sessions for breast cancer susceptibility.[15] Of note, genetic counselors seemed to rely on demographic information and breast cancer history to tailor genetic counseling sessions rather than client's self-reported expectations or psychosocial factors.[16] Concurrent provision of psychosocial and scientific information may be important in reducing worry in the context of counseling about cancer genetics topics.[17] An increasing appreciation of language choices may contribute to enhanced understanding and reduced anxiety levels in the session; for example, it was noted that patients may appreciate synonymic choices for the word "mutation," such as "altered gene".[18] Some authors have published recommendations for cultural tailoring of educational materials for the African-American population, such as a large flip chart, including the use of simple language and pictures, culturally identifiable images (e.g., spiritual symbols and tribal patterns), bright colors, and humor.[19]

Literature that examines novel channels to communicate genetic cancer risk information, deliver psychosocial support, and standardize the genetic counseling process for individuals at increased risk of cancer is being developed.[20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27] Much of this literature has attempted to make the genetic counseling session more efficient or to limit the need for the counselor to address basic genetic principles in the session to free up time for the client's personal and emotional concerns about his or her risk. For example, the receipt of genetic feedback for BRCA1/2 and mismatch repair gene testing by letter, rather than a face-to-face genetic counseling feedback session, has been investigated.[28] Other modalities include the development of checklists, CD-ROM programs, and interactive computer programs. Checklists have been developed to ensure coverage of important topics in the counseling session and include those completed by observers or by the patients themselves to clarify their goals and needs in the counseling session. One study compared a feedback checklist completed by 197 women attending a high-risk breast clinic prior to the counseling session to convey prior genetic knowledge and misconceptions to aid the counselor in tailoring the session for that client.[22] The use of the feedback checklist led to gains in knowledge from the counseling session but did not reduce genetic counseling time, perhaps because the genetic counselor chose to spend time discussing topics such as psychosocial issues. Use of the checklist did decrease the time spent with the medical oncologist, however. The feedback checklist was compared to a CD-ROM that outlined basic genetic concepts and the benefits and limitations of testing and found that those viewing the CD-ROM spent less time with counselors and were less likely to choose to undergo genetic testing. The CD-ROM did not lead to increased knowledge of genetic concepts, as did use of the checklist.

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