Talking to Youth About Familial Cancer Risk

People who have a family history of cancer or inherited mutations that increase their cancer risk face difficult decisions about when and how to tell their children about their family cancer history and/or inherited mutation.

When one family member has a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer or tests positive for an inherited mutation in BRCA or another high-risk gene, other relatives also are at risk of developing cancer and inheriting the same mutation. However, little is known about how younger family members react to this knowledge.

Guidance for parents is limited. Prior studies have shown that some adolescents and young adults make healthier lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, after learning about their possible inherited risk for cancer. Other studies have shown that young women from high-risk families might dwell on their risk and perceive it as higher than it actually is, leading to anxiety and apprehension about their health.

In a recent study, researchers wanted to know how teens and young adults reacted to the knowledge of breast and ovarian cancer within their families and how knowing about the risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer affects their health and quality of life

Overall, they found that teens and young adults from high-risk families responded well when mothers tested for BRCA mutations relayed their results. Encouragingly, telling adolescents and young adults about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer did not harm their behavior or quality of life. Knowing about their risk also increased the youths’ awareness of and knowledge about cancer, what causes it and how it can be prevented.

Read more in FORCE's XRAY review.