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Cancer Health Center

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Cancer Genetics Risk Assessment and Counseling (PDQ®): Genetics - Health Professional Information [NCI] - The Option of Genetic Testing

Table 1. Clinical Utility of Genetic/Genomic Testsa continued...

Importance of Pretest Counseling

The complexity of genetic testing for cancer susceptibility has led experts to suggest that careful, in-depth counseling should precede any decision about the use of testing, in keeping with the accepted principles for the use of genetic testing.[60] For example, New York State guidelines specify that "When an increased risk for hereditary susceptibility is identified through the individual or family history, the clinician should initiate discussion or refer the patient for information concerning genetic testing and its potential benefits and burdens. The clinician who opts to take on this responsibility must provide the depth of content and time required to ensure that the patient can make an informed testing choice."[46]

Qualitative and quantitative research studies indicate that families hold a variety of beliefs about the inheritance of characteristics within families; some of these beliefs are congruent with current scientific understanding, whereas others are not.[61,62,63] These beliefs may be influenced by education, personal and family experiences, and cultural background. Because behavior is likely to be influenced by these beliefs, the usefulness of genetic information may depend on recognizing and addressing the individual's preexisting cognitions. This process begins with initial discussion and continues throughout the genetic counseling process.

Psychological Impact of Genetic Information/Test Results on the Individual

An accurate assessment of psychosocial functioning and emotional factors related to testing motivation and potential impact and utilization is an important part of pretest counseling.[64,65,66,67,68] Generally, a provider inquires about a person's emotional response to the family history of cancer and also about a person's response to his or her own risk of developing cancer. People have various coping strategies for dealing with stressful circumstances such as genetic risk. Identifying these strategies and ascertaining how well or poorly they work will have implications for the support necessary during posttest counseling and will help personalize the discussion of anticipated risks and benefits of testing. Taking a brief history of past and current psychiatric symptoms (e.g., depression, extreme anxiety, or suicidality) will allow for an assessment of whether this individual is at particular risk of adverse effects after disclosure of results. In such cases, further psychological assessment may be indicated.

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