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This multi-centre UK study assesses the impact of predictive testing for breast and ovarian cancer predisposition genes (BRCA1/2) in the clinical context. In the year following predictive testing, 261 adults (59 male) from nine UK genetics centres participated; 91 gene mutation carriers and 170 noncarriers. Self-report questionnaires were completed at baseline (pre-genetic testing) and 1, 4 and 12 months following the genetic test result. Men were assessed for general mental health (by general health questionnaire (GHQ)) and women for general mental health, cancer-related worry, intrusive and avoidant thoughts, perception of risk and risk management behaviour. Main comparisons were between female carriers and noncarriers on all measures and men and women for general mental health. Female noncarriers benefited psychologically, with significant reductions in cancer-related worry following testing (P<0.001). However, younger female carriers (<50 years) showed a rise in cancer-related worry 1 month post-testing (P<0.05). This returned to pre-testing baseline levels 12 months later, but worry remained significantly higher than noncarriers throughout (P<0.01). There were no significant differences in GHQ scores between males and females (both carriers and noncarriers) at any time point. Female carriers engaged in significantly more risk management strategies than noncarriers in the year following testing (e.g. mammograms; 92% carriers vs 30% noncarriers). In the 12 months post-testing, 28% carriers had bilateral risk-reducing mastectomy and 31% oophorectomy. Oophorectomy was confined to older (mean 41 yrs) women who already had children. However, worry about cancer was not assuaged by surgery following genetic testing, and this requires further investigation. In all, 20% of female carriers reported insurance problems. The data show persistent worry in younger female gene carriers and confirm changes in risk management consistent with carrier status. Men were not adversely affected by genetic testing in terms of their general mental health.

Original publication




Journal article


Br j cancer

Publication Date





1787 - 1794


Empirical Approach, Genetics and Reproduction, Adult, Age Factors, Anxiety, Breast Neoplasms, Cohort Studies, Female, Genes, BRCA1, Genes, BRCA2, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Genetic Testing, Heterozygote, Humans, Insurance Selection Bias, Male, Middle Aged, Mutation, Ovarian Neoplasms, Risk Management, Sex Factors, Surveys and Questionnaires, United Kingdom