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Many studies have reported that individuals frequently over- or underestimate their risk of developing cancer both before and after they attend genetic counseling for breast and/or ovarian cancer. Using a combination of interviews and written questionnaires, we investigated counselees' understanding of their risk of developing cancer before and after genetic counseling. We demonstrate that although 76% of the sample thought that their risk was elevated relative to women in general, only a small proportion (17%) were willing or able to provide a numerical estimate of their risk of developing cancer before they attended the clinic. Following the consultation, 43% indicated that their risk of developing cancer was lower than they had anticipated. Twenty-two percent described their risk in absolute rather than relative terms, i.e., that they would definitely (not) develop cancer in the future. The implications of these findings for further research are discussed.

Original publication




Journal article


J Genet Couns

Publication Date





345 - 364