Health first, genetics second: exploring families' experiences of communicating genetic information

Eur J Hum Genet. 2008 Nov;16(11):1329-35. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2008.104. Epub 2008 May 21.


Genetic information may have health and reproductive implications for the proband and their family members. The responsibility for communicating this information within families generally lies with the proband or consultand. Previous research has explored the barriers and facilitators to communication, particularly in families affected with familial cancer syndromes. This study is an exploration of families' experiences, which aims to elucidate the process of communicating genetic information in families affected with non-cancer genetic conditions. The methodology involved 12 semi-structured interviews with probands, consultands and their family members. There were six different genetic conditions present in the families: adrenoleukodystrophy (n=3), cystic fibrosis (n=3), fragile X syndrome (n=1), haemochromatosis (n=1), balanced reciprocal chromosomal translocation (n=3) and Robertsonian chromosomal translocation (n=1). The results presented arise from two key themes, (1) the diagnosis and (2) post diagnosis. The interview data illustrate that the time of the diagnosis is a traumatic experience for families and that communication stimulated by this event revolves around informing family members about the diagnosis, but not warning them of their genetic risk. Post diagnosis, the collection of information about the genetic condition and continued communication to more distant family members, often using pre-existing family communication patterns, enables the continuation of communication about the genetic condition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Family*
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling*
  • Genetic Diseases, Inborn / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male