Objectives: This study explores communication within families of clinically significant genetics research results, after the death of the patient participant. BRCA2 mutations were found in several men after their death from prostate cancer. Spouses were given the results in a genetic counselling session and asked to inform relatives.
Methods: Cross-sectional, qualitative exploratory study. Interviews with 13 relatives, including informers and recipients of the information, were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis.
Results: Dissemination was hampered when communication channels between relatives were limited, because of family rifts or socially distant or problematic relationships. When informing other branches of the family, relatives approached individuals in the generation of the deceased man, regardless of their risk status, who were then responsible for informing younger relatives. Most people informed by a relative did not seek genetic counselling. The informing relative may not have sufficient authority for the information either to be taken seriously or to challenge individual constructions about the aetiology of cancer. This impeded information transmission to further at-risk relatives. Most participants knew of relatives who had not been told about their cancer risk.
Conclusions: The implications of this limited efficiency of information transfer among relatives are discussed in the context of a potential role for genetics services in contacting at-risk relatives directly.