BRCA1/2 testing in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer families: Effectiveness of problem-solving training as a counseling intervention

Aideen McInerney-Leo, Barbara Bowles Biesecker, Donald W. Hadley, Ronald G. Kase, Therese R. Giambarresi, Elizabeth Johnson, Caryn Lerman, Jeffery P. Struewing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


It remains uncertain whether members of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) families experience psychological distress with genetic testing and whether pre-test counseling can have a moderating effect on client well-being. One purpose of this study was to assess change in psychological well-being from baseline to 6-9 months follow-up and the effect of a problem-solving training (PST) intervention on psychological well-being. Two hundred and twelve members of 13 HBOC families were offered BRCA1/2 testing for a previously identified family mutation. Participants received education and were randomized to one of two counseling interventions; PST or client-centered counseling. Psychological well-being was assessed at baseline and again at 6-9 months following the receipt of test results, or at the equivalent time for those participants who chose not to undergo testing. Well-being was assessed using measures of depressive symptoms (CESD), intrusive thoughts (IES), cancer worries, and self-esteem. Comparisons were made between those who chose testing and those who did not as well as between those who received positive and negative test results. One hundred eighty one participants elected to undergo genetic testing (85%) and 47 of these (26%) were identified as BRCA1/2 mutation carriers. Breast and ovarian cancer worries decreased significantly (p = 0.007 and 0.008, respectively) in those who tested negative while there was no appreciable change in psychological well-being from baseline to follow-up in either those who tested positive or in non-testers. Among all participants, particularly testers, those randomized to PST had a greater reduction in depressive symptoms than those randomized to client-centered counseling (p < 0.05 and p = 0.02, respectively). Regardless of the decision to test, individuals with a personal history of cancer (n = 22) were more likely to have an increase in breast cancer worries compared to those who had never been diagnosed with cancer (p < 0.001). Results suggest that a problem-solving counseling intervention may help to enhance psychological well-being following testing and that a personal history of cancer may increase psychological distress associated with genetic testing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-227
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics
Volume130 A
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 15 2004


  • Counseling interventions
  • Genetic counseling
  • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer
  • Predictive genetic testing
  • Psychological well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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