Adaptation of couples living with a high risk of breast/ovarian cancer and the association with risk-reducing surgery

Rachel Shapira, Erin Turbitt, Lori H. Erby, Barbara B. Biesecker, William M.P. Klein, Gillian W. Hooker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Women who carry BRCA1/2 mutations have a significantly elevated risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The positive test result and subsequent decisions about risk reducing behaviors can evoke distress, anxiety and worry. Psychological adaptation, or the process of coming to terms with the implications of a health threat, is an understudied construct in BRCA1/2 carriers. Little is known about adaptation and how it relates to other aspects of living at high risk for cancer. Even less is understood about adaptation among partners of BRCA1/2 carriers, and its relationship to adaptation in high risk individuals. Women at increased risk of breast/ovarian cancer (N = 103) and a subset of partners (N = 39) completed questionnaires that assessed risk management decisions (e.g. screening, risk-reducing surgery), dyadic coping, and the outcome of psychological adaptation. Women who had undergone risk-reducing mastectomy (RRM) had significantly higher levels of adaptation than those who had not (t = 5.5, p < 0.001, d = 1.10). Partners of women who had undergone RRM also had higher levels of adaptation than partners of women who had not undergone RRM (t = 3.7, p = 0.01, d = 0.96), though this association was not statistically significant when controlling for carriers’ adaptation. Undergoing risk-reducing oophorectomy was not associated with adaptation for BRCA1/2 carriers or their partners. Risk-reducing mastectomy is a significant event in the process of adapting to life at risk for hereditary cancer. Further, adaptation among partners is highly related to adaptation in carriers. These results aid in the understanding of the experience of couples living with cancer risk and the medical decisions related to adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-493
Number of pages9
JournalFamilial Cancer
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • BRCA1/2
  • Breast cancer
  • Dyad
  • Partner
  • Risk reducing surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Oncology
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cancer Research


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