Patients' willingness to reconsider cancer genetic testing after initially declining: Mention it again

J Genet Couns. 2020 Feb;29(1):18-24. doi: 10.1002/jgc4.1174. Epub 2019 Sep 25.


Patients at risk for hereditary cancer syndromes sometimes decline clinically appropriate genetic testing. The purpose of the current study was to understand what preferences, concerns, and desires informed their refusal as well as their current level of interest in being tested. We interviewed patients who had been seen in a hereditary cancer clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and had declined genetic testing. In all, 21 in-depth, semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted. Although patients provided many reasons for declining testing, they most often cited their psychosocial state at the time of the initial invitation to participate in genetic testing as their reason for refusal. The majority (67%) said that they either would or had changed their mind about testing if/when their clinicians 'mentioned it again'. Patients at risk for hereditary cancer who refuse testing at the time of genetic counseling may later change their mind. In particular, if a patient declines testing around the time of a major medical diagnosis or intervention, clinicians who are providing ongoing care may want to raise the topic afresh after the patient has had time to recover from initial distress related to diagnosis or treatment. Strategies to prompt clinicians to have these conversations are suggested.

Keywords: barriers to genetic testing; decision-making; ethics; genetic counseling; genetic testing; hereditary cancer; psychosocial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling / psychology*
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplastic Syndromes, Hereditary / genetics*
  • Neoplastic Syndromes, Hereditary / psychology