New approach helps women talk to their families about cancer risk

To understand their risk for hereditary forms of cancer, such as breast and colon cancer, women need to know their family history. The design and effectiveness of a 20-minute skills-based intervention that can help women better communicate with relatives and gather and share information about family cancer history was described in a new study.

The study, described in Journal of Women's Health (2014; doi:10.1089/jwh.2014.4754), is available free at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/jwh.2014.4754 until December 10, 2014.

The study was led by Joann Bodurtha, MD, MPH of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Its intervention is called KinFact, and it is a 20-minute intervention based on communication and behavior theory. It includes reviewing individualized breast/colon cancer risks and an interactive presentation about cancer and communication. It was implemented in a primary care setting that was mostly African American.

KinFact participants were significantly more likely to gather and share family cancer information with relatives and to communicate with them more often than were women who instead received a handout about lowering cancer risk and cancer screening. The authors found that the effectiveness of KinFact varied depending on whether women were pregnant and on their level of genetic literacy. It was less effective for pregnant women.

Previous studies have shown that family history communication needs to increase. The authors stated that “KinFact is one of the first interventions to demonstrate an effective method for increasing this communication.”

"Communication within families about cancer diagnoses and risk is difficult, and interventions like KinFact are useful to better understand patients' family health risks," says Susan G. Kornstein, MD, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Women's Health, executive eirector of the Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Women's Health, Richmond, Virginia, and president of the Academy of Women's Health.

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