Genetic testing not as stressful to women as once thought

"Would you really want to know?" The question often comes up in conversations about genetic testing, and many experts have thought that learning one had a cancer susceptibility gene might cause anxiety or depression. Those concerns may be unwarranted.

Using psychological tests, questionnaires and interviews, University of Pennsylvania researchers evaluated 196 women with a risk of inheriting mutated BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 genes. (Inheriting one or both genes doesn't predict cancer, but indicates a 55% to 85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 27% to 53% risk of ovarian cancer.)

The study found that testing was no more stressful than being a member of a high-risk family. More than half (56%) wanted to know the test results, and two-thirds of those wanted the results immediately.

Some professionals have misinterpreted women's reactions to genetic testing, says lead author James Coyne. "This has led to unfortunate warnings [about testing] and suggestions that women ... should automatically expect to need psychological treatment."

The study was published in the Jan. 30 issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

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