Counseling May Help Women at Risk for Breast Cancer Gene

Learning about options might relieve anxiety, improve survival in young women, researchers say

FRIDAY, Aug. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Although women whose mothers had breast cancer may worry about developing cancer themselves, many do not fully understand when and why they should be screened or their options to reduce their risk for the disease, a new study suggests.

"Young, high-risk women have little knowledge about the probabilities and options for managing the cancers for which their risks are remarkably increased. Further, many report intense anxiety related to their potential cancer development," principal investigator Andrea Farkas Patenaude, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said in an institute news release.

The daughters of women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have a 50 percent chance of having this mutation themselves, which will increase their risk of breast cancer by 85 percent and raise their risk of ovarian cancer by up to 60 percent. The researchers pointed out that these women will be unable to make informed health decisions until they know about these risks as well as the genetic testing, other types of screening and risk-reducing surgery available to them.

In conducting the study, the investigators questioned the 18- to 24-year-old daughters of mothers who are BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation carriers, about their attitudes, health behaviors, life plans and how much they knew about hereditary breast or ovarian cancer genetics.

The researchers found that the women surveyed worried a lot about hereditary breast or ovarian cancer. In fact, 40 percent of the daughters revealed they worried a great deal or to an extreme about hereditary cancer.

The study also revealed that the women were not well-informed about the genetics of breast or ovarian cancers, compared to those who had genetic counseling. The participants also did not fully understand their cancer screening and risk-reduction options, including when they should begin this screening process.

"These data support the need and can provide the foundation for the development of targeted educational materials to reduce that anxiety and ultimately improve participation in effective screening and risk-reducing interventions that can improve survival and quality of life for these young women," Farkas Patenaude said.

The findings were slated for presentation on Thursday in Orlando at the Era of Hope conference hosted by the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program. Because this study was presented at a meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information on how to assess breast cancer risk.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, news release, Aug. 4, 2011

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