Getting tested for genetic cancer risks raises difficult questions and can provoke a lot of anxiety.
The results tend to be complicated, the stakes are high, and those who are tested often feel conflicted about sharing the results.
A new study explored how people talk about test results with their children.
Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center interviewed more than 250 people who were tested for genetic cancer risks including breast cancer. The majority of them did talk to their children about the results, the study found. While parents shared with kids of all ages, they were more likely to discuss results with older kids.
Dr. Angela Bradbury said most parents wanted to share their test results because they felt the discussion could convince kids to adopt healthy habits that could minimize their risk.
“We know that children and adolescents really formulate many of their primary health behaviors during that time in their development,” said Bradbury. “So this might be a particularly effective time to intervene, and the interventions that we make in childhood and adolescence may actually hold throughout their life span.”
Usually, he said, kids are already aware of the specter of cancer in their families.
“Many parents share because they want to have a reason and an explanation as to why they see so much cancer in the family,” Bradbury said.
Overall, parents reported that kids coped well with receiving the news, he said.
Those who didn’t cope well tended to be younger; kids whose parents received news of especially complicated cancer risk factors also had a tougher time.
Children are not tested for genetic cancer risks because doctors would not take any action based on those results until patients are older.