Background: Undergoing genetic testing for BRCA1/2 mutations may be accompanied by elevated worry and distress, but the potential for the experience to catalyze positive psychological and life changes has not been studied.
Purpose: This study was designed to examine the relationship between mutation carrier status, personal cancer history, and the potential positive impact of genetic testing (i.e., benefit finding). We also tested two predictors of benefit finding (BF) derived from the theoretical and empirical literature on positive outcomes of stress: impact of the experience and approach-oriented coping.
Methods: Women undergoing genetic testing for BRCA1/2 mutations (n = 108) completed questionnaires assessing test-related distress, approach-oriented coping, and BF after receipt of test results. BRCA1/2 status was determined from genetic test results and personal cancer history from interviews conducted with study participants before testing.
Results: Reports of BF in this sample were highly variable, as some women did not perceive the testing experience as having any noticeable effect on their lives, whereas others reported positive changes similar to those observed in cancer patients (e.g., significantly improved relationships, greater appreciation for life). Contrary to hypotheses, women who tested positive for BRCA1/2 did not report higher levels of BF in response to genetic testing than those who tested negative. However, BF scores were elevated among mutation carriers who had a previous cancer diagnosis. As predicted, test-related distress and approach-oriented coping were also positively associated with BF, and approach-oriented coping mediated the relationship between carrier status x cancer history and BF.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that positive life changes can occur among women who test positive for BRCA1/2 mutations, particularly cancer survivors.