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Genetic testing not as stressful to women as once thought

March 17, 2003|Dianne Partie Lange

"Would you really want to know?" The question often comes up in conversations about genetic testing, and many experts have thought that learning one had a cancer susceptibility gene might cause anxiety or depression. Those concerns may be unwarranted.

Using psychological tests, questionnaires and interviews, University of Pennsylvania researchers evaluated 196 women with a risk of inheriting mutated BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 genes. (Inheriting one or both genes doesn't predict cancer, but indicates a 55% to 85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 27% to 53% risk of ovarian cancer.)

The study found that testing was no more stressful than being a member of a high-risk family. More than half (56%) wanted to know the test results, and two-thirds of those wanted the results immediately.

Some professionals have misinterpreted women's reactions to genetic testing, says lead author James Coyne. "This has led to unfortunate warnings [about testing] and suggestions that women ... should automatically expect to need psychological treatment."

The study was published in the Jan. 30 issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

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