Young BRCA Carriers Face Complex Life-Altering Decisions

Knowledge of genetic risk affects decisions about marriage, childbearing, and breast cancer

FRIDAY, Sept. 28 (HealthDay News) -- For young women, carrying a BRCA mutation impacts actions and decisions related to getting married, having children, and receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer, according to a study published in the October issue of the American Journal of Nursing.

Rebekah Hamilton, Ph.D., R.N., from Rush University in Chicago, examined the psychosocial consequences for young women who test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. Forty-four women aged 18 to 39 years with a BRCA mutation, from 22 states and Canada, were interviewed. The study focused on the impact of knowledge of genetic risk on whether or not women were married, had children, or had a breast cancer diagnosis.

The researcher found that the 13 unmarried women in the group discussed issues pertaining to when to disclose their genetic information in intimate relationships. Many of the 24 participants with children reported that their primary goal was "staying alive" for their children. A sense of urgency to have children was felt by those women without children. The youngest of the 21 women who had a diagnosis of breast cancer was 24 years old, and women with a breast cancer diagnosis said that knowledge of their genetic risk affected their decision to undergo prophylactic removal of their unaffected breast.

"A sense of being different and not understood was expressed in these interviews," Hamilton writes. "These findings suggest that nurses should be aware of psychosocial issues, especially those surrounding marriage and childbearing, in their interactions with young women who carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation."

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