Psychological impact of genetic counselling and testing in women previously diagnosed with breast cancer

Intern Med J. Sep-Oct 2001;31(7):397-405. doi: 10.1046/j.1445-5994.2001.00091.x.


Background: The recent discovery of susceptibility genes relating to breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2, now allows women with breast cancer and a family history of breast/ovarian cancer to undergo genetic testing to identify a causative germ-line mutation. The present study assessed the psychological status over time of women affected by breast cancer requesting genetic testing (cases; n = 32) compared with matched controls (n = 28).

Methods: Subjects were recruited through two Sydney-based hospitals. Data were collected via questionnaire and telephone interview at baseline, and 2 weeks and 3-6 months following counselling.

Results: Genetic test results were not received by the subjects within the study period. Cases showed a greater increase in knowledge of cancer genetics following counselling compared with controls, and this was maintained over time. Psychological symptoms remained stable over the study period and there were no differences between groups.

Conclusions: Increased knowledge following genetic counselling was not accompanied by an increase in anxiety or depression. Further assessment will be required in the long term to determine the psychological impact of receiving a genetic test result.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling* / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Knowledge of Results, Psychological*
  • Middle Aged
  • Socioeconomic Factors