Effects of individualized breast cancer risk counseling: A randomized trial

  • Lerman C
  • Lustbader E
  • Rimer B
 et al. 
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Background: Studies have shown that a majority of women with a family history of breast cancer have exaggerated perceptions of their own risk of this disease and experience excessive anxiety. In response to the need to communicate more accurate risk information to these women, specialized programs for breast cancer risk counseling have been initiated in medical centers across the United States. Purpose: Our purpose was 1) to evaluate the impact of a standardized protocol for individualized breast cancer risk counseling on comprehension of personal risk among first-degree relatives of index breast cancer patients and 2) to identify women most and least likely to benefit from such counseling. Methods: This study is a prospective randomized trial comparing individualized breast cancer risk counseling to general health counseling (control). We studied 200 women aged 35 years and older who had a family history of breast cancer in a first-degree relative. Women with a personal history of cancer were excluded. Risk comprehension was assessed as the concordance between perceived “subjective” lifetime breast cancer risk and estimated “objective” lifetime risk. Results: The results of logistic regression analysis showed that women who received risk counseling were significantly more likely to improve their risk comprehension, compared with women in the control condition (odds ratio [OR] = 3.5; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.3−9.5; P = .01). However, in both groups, about two thirds of women continued to overestimate their lifetime risks substantially following counseling. Examination of subjects by treatment interaction effects indicated that risk counseling did not produce improved comprehension among the large proportion of women who had high levels of anxious preoccupation with breast cancer at base line (P = .02). In addition, white women were less likely to benefit than African-American women (OR = 0.34; 95% CI = 0.11−0.99; P = .05). Conclusion: Efforts to counsel women about their breast cancer risks are not likely to be effective unless their breast cancer anxieties are also addressed. Implications: Attention to the psychological aspects of breast cancer risk will be critical in the development of risk-counseling programs that incorporate testing for the recently cloned breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA1 (and BRCA2 when that gene has also been cloned). [J Natl Cancer Inst 87: 286-292, 1995]

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  • Caryn Lerman

  • Edward Lustbader

  • Barbara Rimer

  • Mary Daly

  • Suzanne Miller

  • Colleen Sands

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