Women's interest in genetic testing for breast cancer susceptibility may be based on unrealistic expectations

Am J Med Genet. 2001 Mar 1;99(2):99-110. doi: 10.1002/1096-8628(2000)9999:999<00::aid-ajmg1142>3.0.co;2-i.


We report on results of an interview study assessing women's attitudes toward and hypothetical interest in genetic susceptibility testing for breast cancer. Data are from 246 interviews with women of varying ethnicity (African American, European American, Native American, and Ashkenazi Jewish), family history of breast cancer (negative, positive, and borderline), and educational level. Semistructured interviews included questions on general health beliefs; attitudes, experiences, and concerns about breast cancer; and hypothetical interest in genetic testing. Influence of specific test characteristics was assessed with 14 Likert scales varying negative and positive predictive value, timing of disease, possible medical interventions following a positive result. Results reported include both statistical and qualitative analysis. We found that women had a high level of interest in testing which, in general, did not vary by ethnicity, level of education, or family history. Interest in testing appeared to be shaped by an exaggerated sense of vulnerability to breast cancer, limited knowledge about genetic susceptibility testing, and generally positive views about information provided through medical screening. However, study participants were most interested in a test that didn't exist (high positive predictive value followed by effective, noninvasive, preventive therapy) and least interested in the test that does exist (less than certain positive predictive value, low negative predictive value, and limited, invasive, and objectionable therapeutic options). Our data suggest that without a careful counseling process, women could easily be motivated toward interest in a test which will not lead to the disease prevention they are seeking.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Educational Status
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Female
  • Genes, BRCA1
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Assessment
  • Women's Health