Genetic Testing and Family Relationships

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Having genetic testing isn’t just about gaining information about your own personal risk of cancer. Your results will affect your relatives, too, whether or not they wish to have testing themselves. This can have an impact on family relationships.

When families take a “we’re all in this together” approach, with everyone agreeing on the need for information about the risk of breast cancer (and possibly other cancers), the genetic testing process can strengthen relationships. Research studies have found that the process is more likely to cause positive changes than negative ones.

Some families can be divided, though, and relationships strained. Some relatives might not want the information or question why others would even have the test. Those who choose testing might not understand why others aren’t interested in seeking more complete information about their cancer risk. If some family members test positive for a genetic mutation and share the information, others might resent having to deal with fears they wouldn’t have faced otherwise.

If you have children, another challenge can be figuring out what to tell them about genetic testing and when. Your and your relatives’ results will be important for them to know as they enter adulthood. They might wish to consider genetic testing themselves at that point. Many people struggle with how to deliver this information.

This section of Breastcancer.org will make you aware of some of the family issues you could face throughout the genetic testing process. Every family is different, of course, but these general tips might be helpful as you navigate family conversations and the impact on relationships.

The experts for this section are:

  • Andrea Forman, M.S., L.C.G.C., genetic counselor, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA
  • Sue Montgomery, R.N., B.S.N., O.C.N., G.C.N., genetic nurse navigator, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA

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