Couples attending counseling sessions together better prepared to ease children's concerns

October 13, 2007

KANSAS CITY, MO - When women with children attend a counseling session before undergoing genetic testing for breast cancer, they are far more likely than their partners to be up front with their kids about the tests and the potential for cancers being inherited, according to a study released today here at the annual meeting of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

However, researchers also found that when the co-parent--a spouse, partner or other adult involved in the upbringing and care of the children--attended the genetic counseling session with the woman, they were more informed about genetic testing and had much more interaction and communication with their children than those who did not attend, said Tiffani A. DeMarco, lead author of the study.

"The bottom line is that moms are really the gatekeepers of the information about genetic testing," said DeMarco, a genetic counselor and clinical coordinator of the cancer genetics program at Georgetown University's Lombardi Cancer Center and the Washington Cancer Institute/Washington Hospital Center. "But women can potentially benefit from having a co-parent who attends the counseling session because they will be more likely to understand what the mom is going through and more likely to be able to communicate some of that to their children."

Georgetown University Medical Center researchers interviewed 97 women undergoing genetic testing for breast cancer and 97 of their co-parents. The women were undergoing genetic counseling for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risk and providing a blood sample for BRCA1/2 genetic testing. Those interviewed had children between the ages of 8 and 21 years. About 35 percent of the co-parents attended the pre-test genetic counseling session.

"Parents who undergo counseling are much more likely to have talked to their children about cancer in general and felt that they needed to reassure them about their worries," DeMarco said.

The study is part of ongoing research from a team at the Washington, D.C.,-based Lombardi Cancer Center. Earlier research found that up to 50 percent of parents disclose the results of genetic breast cancer tests to a child less than 18 years old within one month of learning of the woman's carrier status.

Patients interviewed received genetic counseling at the Lombardi Cancer Center, the Ruttenberg Cancer Center in New York, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.
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About the National Society of Genetic Counselors

NSGC is the leading voice, authority and advocate for the genetic counseling profession. Membership represents more than 2,000 masters-level health professionals, most of whom provide direct patient care (totaling over one million visits per year). Members are employed in a wide range of clinical care, academic, research and biotechnology settings, and are located in every state of the U.S. and internationally. The organization is committed to ensuring that the public has access to genetic counseling and genetic testing. Visit NSGC at www.nsgc.org.

National Society of Genetic Counselors

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