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Sharing Cancer Info May Be Empowering

Telling children about genetic risks fosters openness, expert says

FRIDAY, May 15 (HealthDay News) -- Parents with family secrets may struggle to decide what to share with their children. But when it comes to cancer running in the family, a new study shows that those who choose to reveal the results of genetic tests are glad they did.

Scientists know that two genes are to blame for the majority of inherited breast and ovarian cancer cases, and tests can show if a woman has those genes.

For the study, researchers from the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center interviewed 221 mothers and 124 partners (mostly fathers) before the genetic test results were revealed and again one and six months later.

More than 60 percent of the mothers and more than 40 percent of their partners talked with their children about the results within a month of getting them. Even more had the discussion within six months of getting the results, the findings show.

Mothers who revealed the test results reported being more satisfied with their decision than the ones who decided to keep them a secret, according to the researchers.

The findings are to be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting, being held later this month in Florida.

"Both parents make decisions about revealing predictive genetic test results to children within a relatively short period of time, even though there is no immediate health implication for children to learn that news," said lead investigator Kenneth Tercyak, an associate professor of oncology and pediatrics at Lombardi. "Children growing up in families surrounded by cancer can be worried about whether cancer may happen to them someday. Cancer genetic tests provide a piece of that information."

A positive side effect of the decision to share the results was a more open parent-child relationship, Tercyak said.

Sharing test results can be considered part of a family's attitude toward health and wellness, said study co-author Beth Peshkin, a genetic counselor at Lombardi.

"Although we do not yet know how to offset familial risks of cancer in future generations, it can be very empowering for parents to promote positive health habits in their children early on, like not smoking, eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly and avoiding excess exposure to the sun," Peshkin said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about genetic testing for cancer.

-- Dennis Thompson

SOURCE: Georgetown University Medical Center, news release, May 14, 2009

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