Genetic counselling and the intention to undergo prophylactic mastectomy: Effects of a breast cancer risk assessment

S. Van Dijk, W. Otten, M. W. Zoeteweij, D. R.M. Timmermans, C. J. Van Asperen, M. H. Breuning, R. A.E.M. Tollenaar, J. Kievit

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Scientific reports suggest that women at risk for familial breast cancer may benefit from prophylactic mastectomy. However, few data are available about how women decide upon this clinical option, and in particular, what role an objective risk assessment plays in this. The purpose of the present study is to assess whether this objective risk information provided in genetic counselling affects the intention for prophylactic mastectomy. Additionally, the (mediating) effects of breast cancer worry and perceived risk are investigated. A total of 241 women completed a questionnaire before and after receiving information about their familial lifetime breast cancer risk in a genetic counselling session. Path analysis showed that the objective risk information had a corrective effect on perceived risk (β=0.38; P=0.0001), whereas the amount of breast cancer worry was not influenced by the counselling session. The objective risk information did not directly affect the intention for prophylactic mastectomy. The intention was influenced by perceived risk after counselling (β=0.23; P=0.002), and by the precounselling levels of perceived risk (β=0.27; P=0.00025) and breast cancer worry (β=0.32; P=0.0001), that is, higher levels of perceived risk and breast cancer worry imply a stronger intention for prophylactic mastectomy. A personal history of breast cancer did not directly influence the intention for prophylactic mastectomy, but affected women who had undergone a mastectomy as surgical treatment were more positively inclined to have a prophylactic mastectomy than women who had had breast-conserving therapy. The impact of objective risk information on the intention for prophylactic mastectomy is limited and is mediated by perceived risk. Important determinants of the intention for prophylactic mastectomy were precounselling levels of breast cancer worry and perceived risk, suggesting that genetic counselling is only one event in the entire process of decision making. Therefore, interventions aimed at improving decision making on prophylactic mastectomy should explicitly address precounselling factors, such as personal beliefs and the psychological impact of the family medical history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1675-1681
Number of pages7
JournalBritish journal of cancer
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2003


  • Decision making
  • Genetic counselling
  • Prophylactic mastectomy
  • Risk perception

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