Women receiving news of a family BRCA1/2 mutation: messages of fear and empowerment

J Nurs Scholarsh. 2010 Dec;42(4):367-78. doi: 10.1111/j.1547-5069.2010.01366.x. Epub 2010 Oct 4.


Purpose: Communication of genetic test results to healthy at-risk family members is complicated considering family dynamics and the complexity of cancer genetics. The purpose of this study was to understand the experience of family communication of BRCA1/2 results from the perspective of young and middle-aged women receiving the news. THEORETICAL RATIONALE: Individuals are self-interpretive beings influenced by family culture, history, and communication patterns. Humans express meaning through language and stories.

Methods: Heideggerian hermeneutics guided in-depth interviews and team interpretation of data. Using purposive and network sampling, 19 women 18 to 50 years of age who received news of a family BRCA1/2 mutation from a biologic relative were recruited from support groups and two health facilities in upstate New York.

Findings: Five themes emerged: (a) situating the story, (b) receiving the message from family, (c) responding to receipt of the message, (d) impacting family communication, and (e) advice for communicating risk. Two constitutive patterns were identified: (a) communicating risk as a message of fear and empowerment and (b) integrating the message by taking one step at a time.

Conclusions/implications: Healthcare professionals (HCPs) have an important role in provision of anticipatory guidance for communication of genetic test results, including the potential behavioral and emotional responses to family risk communication. Future research is indicated to understand the role of HCPs in family risk communication.

Clinical relevance: Presentation of comprehensive and balanced information and the use of patient-centered communication is essential. HCPs need to view women as whole rather than as a person at risk. Continued support is needed for women who subsequently test positive or negative for the family BRCA1/2 mutation from HCPs and others, often outside the family network.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Communication
  • Family / psychology
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Genes, BRCA1*
  • Genes, BRCA2*
  • Genetic Counseling
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / prevention & control
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / psychology
  • Genetic Testing / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation / genetics*
  • New York
  • Nurse's Role / psychology
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Power, Psychological
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Truth Disclosure
  • Women / education
  • Women / psychology*