Accommodating risk: women's perceptions of their risks of developing cancer following genetic testing
Past event 25.01.2006
Dr Nina Hallowell, Public Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh
Boardroom Genomics Forum
The relationship between risk awareness and anxiety has been subject of extensive theoretical debate and empirical research. Previous studies of women with a family history of hereditary breast ovarian cancer (HBOC) suggest that both healthy at-risk women and former cancer patients report increased anxiety upon learning about their increased risks of developing these diseases. Indeed, anxiety about genetic risks has been reported as influencing decisions about DNA-testing and risk-reducing surgery on healthy breasts and ovaries.
This qualitative study of women who had been treated for breast/ovarian cancer investigated their perceptions of, and reactions to, their genetic risks of developing further cancers following genetic testing (/BRCA1/2 /mutation searching). In-depth interviews were undertaken with 30 women (10 mutation carriers, 8 awaiting a result and 12 who received an inconclusive test result). Whilst the majority of women in all three groups adopted a fatalistic approach with regard to their future health and did not regard their genetic risks as a threat to self, a few reported heightened anxiety on learning they were at increased risk of developing a second primary cancer. The data suggest that affected women understand their genetic risks of cancer within the context of their previous disease experiences. It is observed that women's responses to their genetic risk are influenced by the degree to which they have accommodated their risk status in their biography following their diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It is argued that the adoption of a fatalistic approach to risk is a defensive response to future outcomes over which individuals have little or no control.