New research reveals that most mothers who undergo genetic testing to check for cancer risk (BRCA1/2 testing) end up discussing the test results with their children.

The finding comes from a study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, conducted at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In fact, the study suggests that mothers who don’t talk about the results with their kids are more likely to feel unsatisfied and regret their decision.

Lead author, Kenneth Tercyak, PhD, director of behavioral prevention research at Georgetown Lombardi, said that one of the main concerns of genetic testing for cancer risk – among the women that were counseled – was “what the results will mean for their children.”

Talking about the risk of cancer to their children is already “on the radar” for most women undergoing genetic testing, said Tercyak.

Most decisions about whether to share genetic test results are made relatively soon after the women receive their results.

Sharing cancer risk results with kids is mainly to help prepare them for the future and educate them on possible family risk.

A total of 221 mothers, with kids between the ages of 8 to 21, participated in the parent communication study at the Georgetown Lombardi, Mount Sinai cancer center (New York) and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Boston).

The women underwent standardized assessments before they were tested and a month after they received the test results – which indicated their cancer risk.

Tercyak said that “more than half of mothers [62.4 percent] disclosed their genetic test results to their children, especially if the children were teenagers. Parents say sharing the information is often a relief and that it’s part of their duty as parents to convey it.”

Mothers were found to be more willing to talk to their kids about test results if they believed the benefits outweighed the risks, this depended greatly on how old their children were.

Tercyak added:

Younger children are more concrete thinkers. The concept of a gene that causes cancer might be too abstract for some to understand and appreciate, but not others.We encourage parents to ask themselves ‘Is my child ready to learn this?”

Mothers who talked to their kids about the meaning of the test results were generally more satisfied with their decision compared to those who didn’t.

Tercyak said that “when parents feel conflicted, overwhelmed or uncertain, it can compromise their judgment, making them second guess and regret their choices.”

The authors of the study added:

These can be hard choices about sensitive issues, especially for healthy mothers with younger children who opt to have surgery. We associate surgery and doctors appointments with being sick. It can be difficult to explain why a surgery is needed to prevent an illness.”

The team at Georgetown have made a communication tool which can help parents talk to their kids about cancer risk.

The authors concluded “We’re evaluating what works best for parents to help them make and act on decisions that are right for them and their families.”

It is generally discouraged to undergo predictive genetic cancer testing until the age at which interventions are believed to be helpful. Yet, many children of BRCA mutation carriers are aware of their mothers’ genetic test results many years before preventive interventions are indicated, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist