Social Support Reduces Stress Of Genetic Counseling For Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture
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A network of supportive friends and colleagues can make genetic counseling less depressing and anxiety provoking, according to a recent study from Norway.

Social support and self-efficacy -- a patient's belief that he or she is capable of managing a health issue -- buffer the stress associated with genetic counseling for people concerned about cancer that "runs in the family."

The goal of genetic counseling is to "help people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to a disease," said Cathrine Bjorvatn, lead study author.

Bjorvatn, a genetics counselor at the Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care at the University of Bergen, said that counselors help prepare patients to make informed decisions regarding genetic testing and health surveillance programs.

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"This may include both to understand progressions of the particular disease that runs in their family as well as their own risk of being affected by the disease," she said.

The study, which appears in the May issue of the journal Patient Education and Counseling, involved 179 women who had been referred to genetic outpatient clinics at three Norwegian hospitals. The women ranged in age from 18 to 80. Twenty-two women had cancer and another 133 had an immediate relative with cancer. (Cancer-risk information was not available for the remaining participants.)

"A typical participant was a well-educated and employed woman, married or cohabitating, with children, and who scored in the upper range on both social support and self-efficacy," according to the author.

While the authors found that social support and self-efficacy were associated with lower anxiety during genetic counseling for hereditary cancer, they cautioned, "Because half our sample was self-referred, there may have been a selection bias favoring persons with sufficiently good coping resources to approach a genetics department."

Screening might be useful "to identify vulnerable subjects in order to differentiate between those needing extra support and those who are satisfied with an ordinary counseling session," Bjorvatn said.

The study also showed that anxiety was highest before counseling and decreased over time.

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