Communicating genetic risk information within families: a review

Fam Cancer. 2010 Dec;9(4):691-703. doi: 10.1007/s10689-010-9380-3.


This review of family communication of genetic risk information addresses questions of what the functions and influences on communication are; what, who and how family members are told about genetic risk information; what the impact for counsellee, relative and relationships are; whether there are differences by gender and condition; and what theories and methodologies are used. A systematic search strategy identified peer-reviewed journal articles published 1985-2009 using a mixture of methodologies. A Narrative Synthesis was used to extract and summarise data relevant to the research questions. This review identified 33 articles which found a consistent pattern of findings that communication about genetic risk within families is influenced by individual beliefs about the desirability of communicating genetic risk and by closeness of relationships within the family. None of the studies directly investigated the impact of communication on counsellees or their families, differences according to gender of counsellee or by condition nor alternative methods of communication with relatives. The findings mainly apply to late onset conditions such as Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer. The most frequently used theory was Family Systems Theory and methods were generally qualitative. This review points to multifactorial influences on who is communicated with in families and what they are told about genetic risk information. Further research is required to investigate the impact of genetic risk information on family systems and differences between genders and conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Family
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Review Literature as Topic
  • Risk Assessment
  • Truth Disclosure*