Purpose: Familial epidemiological studies of cancer raise familiar ethical issues relating to informed consent and recruitment of participants. When the family is the unit of study, however, additional complexity arises. Educating and recruiting participants must be tailored to the relatives', as well as the proband's needs. An understanding of the prospective participants' concerns will aid the development of strategies for recruitment and will facilitate informed and voluntary consent. In the present study, qualitative methods were used to investigate these issues.
Methods: Focus groups with cancer patients, relatives of cancer patients, and individuals from the general population were separately conducted to identify issues that concern people who are asked to participate in family studies.
Results: Many of the issues which arose in the course of the focus group discussions were similar to those in any study. Yet, some of the themes emerging from the discussions were specific to familial research. In particular, participants expressed that the study should be endorsed by a trusted and familiar source; group discussions might facilitate the consent process; the benefit of the research should be clear and personal, as well as benefit the participants' family members; risks of participation should be explicit (e.g., insurance discrimination); and education about the disease and its familial nature would maintain commitment to the study. Finally, participants expressed concerns about being approached by programs to facilitate the identification and recruitment of other family members for research on family health issues.
Conclusions: Findings from this study will aid future familial studies in developing a protocol that both adequately informs potential participants of the nature of familial research and maximize participation.