Children's literacy about the genetics of late-onset hereditary breast/ovarian cancer (HBOC) often develops through conversations with parents about BRCA gene testing and adults' cancer diagnoses. These conversations may promote early understanding of HBOC, but the long-term impact on children's psychosocial adjustment remains unclear. We investigated cancer genetic health communication in BRCA-tested families to consider benefits, risks, and moderating influences on children's understanding and well-being. Adolescent and young adult children (ages 12-24) of mothers who underwent BRCA testing 1+ years previously completed qualitative interviews that were transcribed, coded (intercoder K ≥ .70), and content-analyzed (N = 34). Children readily recalled conversations about BRCA testing and HBOC (100%) that they considered important (94%), but implications for children were ambiguous and obfuscated their concerns. Psychosocial impacts were muted, multifaceted, and displayed a range of favorable (82%), neutral (71%), and unfavorable (59%) response-frequently co-occurring within the same child over different aspects (e.g., medical, concern for self and others). Children verbalized active (50%) and avoidant (38%) coping strategies: about 1:5 endorsed transient thoughts about vulnerability to HBOC, 1:3 had not further considered it, and all reported specific actions they had or would undertake to remain healthy (e.g., diet/exercise). A majority (94%) of children had or would consider genetic testing for themselves, usually later in life (59%). Long-term outcomes highlighted benefits (awareness of HBOC, psychological hardiness, healthier lifestyle behaviors), as well as some psychosocial concerns that could be managed through interventions promoting genetic health literacy.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Children; Families; Genetic counseling; Genetic testing; Health communication.
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