Telling Your Kids About Your Cancer Risk

BRCA genetic test results often discussed between mothers and their children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Let's say breast cancer runs in your family. So you decide to have genetic testing to learn your risks. The results of your test will affect your children. Would you tell your children the results or not? 

A new study looked at this very question and found that most women chose to tell their children the results of their cancer genetic testing.

The women who discussed the results with their children were satisfied that they had these conversations.

Women who didn’t discuss the results weren’t so satisfied with their choice, according to the researchers.

"Discuss cancer genetic testing with your physician."

Kenneth Tercyak, PhD, director of behavioral prevention research at Georgetown Lombardi Cancer Center, and colleagues conducted this study to find out how often women discussed the results of their BRCA genetic testing with their children.

Having a mutation in the BRCA 1 or 2 gene increases a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

This study involved 221 mothers of children ages eight to 21. Prior to having genetic counseling and testing, the women were enrolled in the parent communication study at Georgetown Lombardi, Mount Sinai cancer center (New York) and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Boston).

Participants completed telephone interviews just after completing the genetic testing and one month later following another session of counseling.

Test results were as follows: 11 percent were negative (did not carry the gene mutations), 75 percent were uninformative (no mutation identified in a relative who didn’t have a known mutation) and 15 percent were positive, meaning the woman carried a BRCA genetic mutation.

The researchers found that 62.4 percent of the mothers discussed the test results with their children, especially when their children were teens or young adults.

Women in the study who disclosed test results were older, more likely to be non-white, unmarried and to have received a negative or uninformative test result.

According to Dr. Tercyak, parents said sharing the information was a relief and that they felt it was part of their parental duty to share the information.

When asked about their level of satisfaction about the decision to share the information, mothers who discussed the results were more satisfied than those who didn’t talk with their children or women who were conflicted about how to act.

"We have found in our clinic, mothers have a harder time relaying the news to their children if the genetic testing results come back positive, but the majority of them do convey the results," Tejal Patel, MD, breast medical oncologist at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, told dailyRx News. 

"We encourage and empower our patients to have an open dialogue with their family members and children regarding the genetic test, whether the results come back negative or positive," said Dr. Patel, who was not involved in this study.

Findings from this research were published July 3 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

This study was funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute and the Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Shared Resource of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center through a Comprehensive Cancer Center Support Grant.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 1, 2013
Last Updated:
July 30, 2013