Study: Software Can Provide Bare-Bones Genetic Counseling
Women unlikely to carry certain cancer mutations may be able to get the information they need from a computer interface, but the flesh-and-blood type are more effective at helping women understand their risk of getting cancer.Women unlikely to carry certain cancer mutations may be able to get the information they need from a computer interface, but the flesh-and-blood type are more effective at helping women understand their risk of getting cancer. Such are the conclusions by researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine, whose study is being published in Wednesdays issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Only about 400 genetic counselors nationwide specialize in cancer, and most are in urban areas. Meanwhile, the availability of and demand for genetic tests to detect inherited cancer risk are increasing, according to the researchers. That leaves many women who are concerned about their cancer risk without access to a counselor who can help them decide whether to go through with genetic testing. Computer programs could help fill this gap, postulated the researchers. The study compared the effectiveness of an interactive computer program to standard genetic counseling for educating women about genetic testing. Just over 200 women with personal or family histories of breast cancer were assigned as having a "high" (over 10 percent) or "low" (under 10 percent) chance of carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, which makes carriers more likely to have breast cancer.
Women in each group were randomly assigned to meet directly with a genetic counselor or to work with a computer program before meeting with a genetic counselor. Surveys before and after each session as well as one month and six months after the study assessed participants knowledge, risk perception, intention to undergo genetic testing, decisional conflict, satisfaction with decision, anxiety and satisfaction with the intervention. The computer program allowed patients to work at their own pace and reread sections as desired.