A recent study demonstrates that parents are more likely than not to tell their sons and daughters younger than 25 years whether or not the parent carries inheritable mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that increase the risk for breast cancer. BRCA1/2 screening and risk-reduction measures generally are not recommended for persons before 25 years.

Angela R. Bradbury, MD, of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and colleagues interviewed 253 parents who had undergone genetic testing for the BRCA1/2 mutations. Of the 505 offspring born to the group, 334 (66%) were informed of their parent’s test result (29% of the patients had learned they were BRCA1/2 mutation carriers). This was most likely to occur if the child was older and female, if the parent had a negative test result (did not carry a mutation), and if the parent’s education level did not exceed high school.

Parents’ perceptions of offspring responses appeared to vary by the child’s age and the parent’s test result. Parents most frequently reported a neutral (41%) or relieved (28%) reaction from offspring upon hearing about the parent’s test results. However, 13% of the sons and daughters reportedly experienced concern, and 11% distress. Distress was more frequently perceived among offspring learning of a parent’s positive result or a result of uncertain significance.

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Bradbury’s team explained in the journal Cancer that a better understanding of how young offspring respond to information about hereditary risk for adult cancer could lead to opportunities to promote cancer-protective behaviors, such as eating a healthful diet and not smoking.