This study explores how family communication patterns and family scripts influence the dissemination of genetic information and the sharing of feelings about genetic inheritance in families of healthy women who have attended a cancer genetics risk clinic because of their family history of breast and, or ovarian cancer. Family scripts are sets of expectations, beliefs, and norms that assign meaning to patterns of interaction, connect generations and provide guidance for action. We conducted an exploratory, qualitative study at a major clinical and research cancer center in the United Kingdom from January through June 2000 approved by the hospital clinical research and ethics committees. Twenty-one semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted using a purposive sample of women coming to the cancer genetics risk clinic for the first time, supplemented by 5 months of participant observation. We identified several communication patterns: open and supportive; directly blocked, indirectly blocked, self-censored and use of third parties. Some family members shared their feelings and discussed ways of trying to avoid developing breast or ovarian cancer; for others disseminating information or just talking about inherited susceptibility for breast and, or ovarian cancer fell into the script violation category; still others tried to renegotiate their family scripts.
Copyright 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.