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The effect of BRCA gene testing on family relationships: a thematic analysis of qualitative interviews

Douglas, Heather Ann (2008) The effect of BRCA gene testing on family relationships: a thematic analysis of qualitative interviews. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Individuals with a personal or family history of cancer can pursue testing for mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility genes, in order to help them make decisions about cancer risk-reducing surgeries and other management options. However, this genetic testing can also have emotional consequences, not only for the tested individual but also for his or her relatives since testing can provide risk information for them as well. Thus, this study investigated the impact of BRCA testing on family dynamics and family relationships. A qualitative research design was employed, in which a secondary analysis was conducted on interview transcripts. In the initial study, two open-ended, tape-recorded interviews were performed using grounded theory methodology with each of 12 participants approximately three years apart. All participants had tested positive for a mutation in either BRCA1 or BRCA2. Thematic analysis of interview transcripts was conducted in the current secondary analysis to characterize family relationships after BRCA testing. Three main themes were identified: 1. That the first in the family to have testing or seek genetic counseling takes on a special family role that can be difficult for them; 2. That discussions in the family, especially those associated with BRCA testing, often change after genetic testing; and 3. That individuals may feel more or less connected to certain family members after genetic testing has occurred in the family. These changes in family dynamics seem to depend on the family history of cancer, prior relationships within the family, emotional coping strategies of relatives, value placed on particular communication patterns, and sharing or not sharing the family's BRCA mutation. The results of this study highlight the profound changes in family life that can occur after BRCA testing. Health professionals can use the insight they gain from this study in their management of patients considering BRCA testing. This work also has public health relevance since it describes how genetic testing for susceptibility to a common disease can influence family dynamics. Such an understanding will be important as the genetic basis of common disease becomes better understood and tests for additional susceptibility genes become available.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Douglas, Heather
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairHamilton, Rebekah Jhamilr@pitt.eduHAMILR
Committee CoChairGrubs, Robin Ergrubs@pitt.eduRGRUBS
Committee MemberThull, Darcy
Committee MemberGettig, Elizabeth Abgettig@pitt.eduBGETTIG
Date: 26 June 2008
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 26 March 2008
Approval Date: 26 June 2008
Submission Date: 8 April 2008
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Public Health > Genetic Counseling
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: BRCA; genetic testing; hereditary breast/ovarian cancer; predictive testing; psychosocial
Other ID:, etd-04082008-111016
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:35
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:39


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