Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The relationship between risk awareness and anxiety has been the subject of extensive theoretical debate and empirical research. Previous studies of women with a family history of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer suggest that both healthy at-risk women and former cancer patients report increased anxiety upon learning about their increased risks of developing these diseases. Indeed, anxiety about genetic risks has been reported as influencing decisions about DNA-testing and risk-reducing surgery on healthy breasts and ovaries. This qualitative study of women who had been treated for breast/ovarian cancer investigated their perceptions of, and reactions to, their genetic risks of developing further cancers following genetic testing (BRCA1/2 mutation searching). In-depth interviews were undertaken with 30 women (10 mutation carriers, 8 awaiting a result and 12 who received an inconclusive test result). Whilst the majority of women in all three groups adopted a fatalistic approach with regard to their future health and did not regard their genetic risks as a threat to self, a few reported heightened anxiety on learning they were at increased risk of developing a second primary cancer. The data suggest that affected women understand their genetic risks of cancer within the context of their previous disease experiences. It is observed that women's responses to their genetic risk are influenced by the degree to which they have accommodated their risk status in their biography following their diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Original publication




Journal article


Soc Sci Med

Publication Date





553 - 565


Adaptation, Psychological, Adult, Aged, Breast Neoplasms, Decision Making, Female, Genes, BRCA1, Genes, BRCA2, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Genetic Testing, Humans, Identification (Psychology), Middle Aged, Ovarian Neoplasms, Retrospective Studies