Psychological Aspects of Genetic Testing for Cancer Susceptibility
Research in molecular genetics has identified a variety of genes that predispose to breast, ovarian, and/or colon cancer. These scientific advances offer unprecedented opportunities for high-risk members of hereditary cancer families to discover whether they carry a genetic mutation and have a significantly increased risk of one or more of these diseases. Individuals found to have a cancer-predisposing mutation potentially can reduce their cancer risks by utilizing available primary and secondary prevention options (Hoskins et al., 1995; Lynch et al., 1993). However, some of these options, such as prophylactic surgery, may have psychological costs (Stefanek, 1995). For high-risk individuals who do not carry a cancer-predisposing mutation, genetic testing may have significant psychological benefits. These noncarriers may be relieved of persistent worry and experience improvements in quality of life (Lerman et al, 1996).