Daughters' vulnerability, source of depression in women at high risk for ovarian cancer

October 27, 1999

Women with a family history of ovarian cancer become depressed when they realize their daughters may also be at risk, according to a study in the journal of Gynecologic Oncology.

"Mothers find themselves in a real confrontation when they think that, in addition to brown hair or green eyes, they may have inadvertently passed on a fatal disease to their daughters," says Professor Paul Ritvo, a public health scientist at the University of Toronto and Princess Margaret Hospital's Ontario Cancer Institute.

Led by Ritvo, researchers evaluated 65 women during their initial genetic ovarian cancer risk assessments and again at a clinical follow-up six to 12 months later. They found that 33 per cent of the women were depressed at the initial assessment and 38 per cent were depressed at the follow-up.

Aside from their own increased risks -- including disfiguring surgery and the loss of child-bearing capacity -- 60 per cent of the women in the study reported their leading source of distress was concern for their daughters. "These findings may be applicable to other forms of heritable cancer," says Ritvo, also a behavioural scientist at Cancer Care Ontario. "Better psychosocial support is obviously needed for people undergoing familial genetic risk assessment."

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute of Canada.

University of Toronto

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