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Genetics of Colorectal Cancer (PDQ®): Genetics - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Psychosocial Issues in Hereditary Colon Cancer Syndromes

Table 19. Studies Measuring Quality-of-Life Variables in Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) continued...

One Finnish study recruited parents aged 40 years or older and known to carry an MMR mutation to complete a questionnaire that investigated how parents shared knowledge of genetic risk with their adult and minor offspring. The study also identified challenges in the communication process.[71] Of 248 parents, 87% reported that they had disclosed results to their children. Reasons for nondisclosure were consistent with previous studies (young age of offspring, socially distant relationships, or feelings of difficulty in discussing the topic).[68,69,72] Nearly all parents had informed their adult offspring about their genetic risk and the possibility of genetic testing, but nearly one-third were unsure of how their offspring had used the information. Parents identified discussing their children's cancer risk as the most difficult aspect of the communication process. Of the 191 firstborn children informed, 69% had undergone genetic testing. One-third of the parents suggested that health professionals should be involved in disclosure of the information and that a family appointment at the genetics clinic should be made at the time of disclosure.

In regard to informing second- and third-degree relatives, individuals may favor a cascade approach; for example, it is assumed that once a relative is given information about the family's risk of LS, he or she would then be responsible for informing his or her first-degree relatives.[67,68,69] This cascade approach to communication is distinctly preferred in regard to informing relatives' offspring, particularly those of minor age, and the consensus suggests that it would be inappropriate to disclose such information to a second-degree or third-degree relative without first proceeding through the family relational hierarchy.[67,68,69,72] In one study, persons who had undergone testing and were found to carry a LS-predisposing mutation were more likely than persons who had received true negative or uninformative results to inform at least one second-degree or third-degree relative about their genetic test results.[70]

While communication about genetic risk is generally viewed as an open process, some communication barriers were reported across studies. Reasons for not informing a relative included lack of a close relationship and lack of contact with the individual; in fact, emotional, rather than relational, closeness seemed to be a more important determinant of the degree of risk communication. A desire to not worry relatives with information about test results and the perception that relatives would not understand the meaning of this information also have been cited as communication barriers.[70] Disclosure seemed less likely if at-risk individuals were considered too young to receive the information (i.e., children), if information about the hereditary cancer risk had previously created conflict in the family,[69] or if it was assumed that relatives would be uninterested in information about testing.[68] Prior existence of conflict seemed to inhibit discussions about hereditary cancer risk, particularly if such discussions involved disclosure of bad news.[69]

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