The psychological consequences of being at risk of developing breast cancer

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Recently the hereditary nature of some breast cancers has received a considerable amount of publicity. Consequently many more women today recognize that their family history places them at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. One justification for informing women that they may have a predisposition to breast cancer is to ensure that individuals at increased risk undergo regular screening. However, evidence suggests that women with a family history of breast cancer are no more likely to use available screening than those without such a family history. There is some evidence that a significant minority of these women at risk may be psychologically distressed to a degree that would warrant professional counselling. Research is needed to assess the psychological impact of being identified as at risk of developing breast cancer due to family history and to establish what can be done to reduce psychological morbidity in these women. In view of the advances being made generally in molecular biology, with the identification of genetic markers for different diseases being announced regularly, such psychosocial research is overdue and imperative.

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