What Causes Cancer in Women with a gBRCA Pathogenic Variant? Counselees' Causal Attributions and Associations with Perceived Control

Genes (Basel). 2022 Aug 6;13(8):1399. doi: 10.3390/genes13081399.


Laypersons have a strong need to explain critical life events, such as the development of an illness. Expert explanations do not always match the beliefs of patients. We therefore assessed causal attributions made by women with a pathogenic germline variant in BRCA1/2 (gBRCA1/2-PV), both with and without a cancer diagnosis. We assumed that attributions would be associated with the control experience. We conducted a cross-sectional study of N = 101 women with a gBRCA1/2-PV (mean age 43.3 ± 10.9). Women answered self-report questionnaires on perceived causes and control. Most women (97%) named genes as a causal factor for the development of cancer. Surprisingly, the majority of women also named stress and health behavior (both 81%), environment (80%), and personality (61%). Women with a cancer diagnosis tended to endorse more causes. The attributions to personality (ρ = 0.39, p < 0.01) health behavior (ρ = 0.44, p < 0.01), and environment (ρ = 0.22, p < 0.05) were significantly associated with personal control, whereas attribution to genes showed a small, albeit significant association with treatment control (ρ = 0.20, p < 0.05). Discussing causal beliefs in clinical counseling may provide a "window of opportunity" in which risk factors and health behaviors could be better addressed and individually targeted.

Keywords: causal attributions; gBRCA1/2-PV; genetic counseling; hereditary breast and ovarian cancer; personal control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Causality
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Genetic Counseling* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grant support

This research study was funded by Berliner Krebsgesellschaft e.V., grant number KEFF201607. We acknowledge financial support from the Open Access Publication Fund of—Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the German Research Foundation (DFG).