Genetic counseling can result in better outcomes when clients understand what to expect, and at least theoretically, at some point in their lifespan, anyone could be referred for or benefit from genetic counseling. Thus, in order to identify (and ultimately address) issues around awareness of genetic counseling and perceptions of its purpose, we surveyed the Canadian general population. We acquired 1000 telephone numbers corresponding to a demographically representative sample of Canada from Survey Sampling International, and invited individuals to participate in a telephone-based survey. We administered a purpose-designed survey (in either French or English) comprising questions regarding: demographics, whether or not the individual had heard of genetic counseling, and 15 Likert scale-rated (strongly disagree – strongly agree) items about the possible purposes of genetic counseling. Responses to these 15 items were used to generate a total “knowledge score”. Of the 1000 numbers, n=372 could not be reached, and the survey was successfully administered to n=188 individuals (response rate 30%). Most respondents (n=129, 69%) had not heard of genetic counseling, and substantial proportions thought that genetic counseling aims to prevent genetic diseases and abnormalities, help couples have children with desirable characteristics, and help people to understand their ancestry. These data could be used to inform the strategy for development of future awareness efforts, and as a baseline from which to measure their effects.
PMID: 23963834 CAMSID: cams3386
Public perception; Genetic counseling awareness; Genetic counseling; Genetic counselor
No genetic tests are currently clinically available for serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Rather, the full spectrum of genetic variants that confer susceptibility remain unknown, and estimates of probability of condition recurrence typically have the form of ranges rather than single absolute numbers. Genetic counselors have been shown to feel that the information that can be provided for patients with serious mental illness could be more confusing than helpful. However, how those with serious mental illness perceive this uncertainty remains unknown. So, to investigate this, individuals with serious mental illness participated in a psychiatric genetic counseling (GC) session and responded to a single open ended question about their reactions towards the uncertainty that they encountered in their GC session immediately and one month post-counseling (from which themes were identified), and completed the Genetic Counseling Satisfaction Scale immediately post-session (descriptive statistics applied). While some of the 37 participants were disappointed with the uncertainty, twice as many were unconcerned. Overall, responses from immediately and one month after GC were very similar; participants were very satisfied with, and found value in GC despite uncertainty, and four approaches to coping with uncertainty emerged. Ultimately, these findings offer insight into providing GC for those with serious mental illness, and potentially could be applied to other areas of GC where uncertainty lies, with downstream impact on GC practice and future research.
PMID: 23604904 CAMSID: cams3140
Mental illness; Genetic counseling; Uncertainty; Psychiatric disorders; Bipolar disorder; Schizophrenia; Schizoaffective disorder; Satisfaction
Myotonic Dystrophy (DM) is a progressive multi-systemic disorder characterized by myotonia and muscle weakness where currently no effective treatment or cure to prevent or delay the disorder exists. This study used mixed methods to examine the experience of living with DM, in patients and their close relatives. Thirteen patients and eight next of kin responded completing Quality of Life and Psychological distress questionnaires in this cross-sectional study, and participating in a semi-structured interview. The findings indicate a higher level of anxiety and hopelessness in next of kin compared to patients, while patients were more depressed. Next of kin reported higher physical, but lower emotional quality of life than patients. Qualitative interviews confirmed the questionnaire findings. The findings from this study may be helpful in genetic counseling. Genetic counselors and geneticists should not only be aware of the burden of being a next of kin, but include discussions about opportunities to minimize the burden in families affected with DM. The findings may be of relevance in counseling for other types of neuromuscular disorders.
Psychological distress; Quality of life; Myotonic dystrophy; Next of kin; Mixed method; Genetic counseling
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of genetic tests available but few tests have practice guidelines. In addition, many tests have become available outside of genetics clinics through direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies and several offer tests not considered standard of care. To address several practical challenges associated with the rapid introduction of clinical and DTC genetic tests, we propose that genetic counselors and geneticists organize expert panels in their institutions to discuss the integration of new tests into patient care. We propose the establishment of Genetic Testing Integration Panels (GTIPs) to bring together local experts in medical genetics, genetic counseling, bioethics and law, health communication and clinical laboratory genetics. We describe key features of this approach and consider some of the potential advantages and limitations of using a GTIP to address the many clinical challenges raised by rapidly emerging clinical and DTC genetic tests.
genetic testing; direct-to-consumer genetic testing (DTC); genetic tests; Genetic Testing Integration Panels (GTIPs); ethical issues; whole genome sequencing; multiplex tests
Public understanding of genetic concepts and associated ethical and policy issues can enable informed deliberation and decision-making. Effective strategies for increasing public understanding involve providing forums incorporating the unique perspectives and attitudes of the public, while allowing opportunities to learn first-hand from scientists about genome research and related applications. Through a partnership between the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy (IGSP) and the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC, we developed and piloted a program aimed to bridge the concepts of formal (public school) and informal (community-based science museum) science learning with the experiential context of family and participatory learning. Called Genome Diner, we piloted the program with 40 genetic/genomic researchers, 76 middle school students and their parents (n=83) from Durham, NC. Program impact was assessed via pre/post surveys for each participant group. Following participation, parents were significantly more likely to correctly interpret the implications of a genome research finding, and both students and parents indicated higher interest in research as well as higher confidence in accessing and understanding genome research. Genetic literacy of parents and students was not affected by participation in the program, likely due to the relatively high knowledge scores pre-Diner: 88.3% and 78.5%, respectively. The interactive format of Genome Diner provided an opportunity for students and parents to explore and discuss interests and issues about genomic research alongside genome scientists, positively influencing attitudes toward genetic research and researchers themselves. These interactions are critical for maintaining public interest and knowledge about genomic research and applications.
Education; Community; Engagement; Attitudes; Knowledge; Genomics; Research
Limited data suggest that enhanced self-knowledge from genetic information related to non-medical traits can have a positive impact on psychological well-being. Deaf individuals undertake genetic testing for deaf genes to increase self-knowledge. Because deafness is considered a non-medical trait by many individuals, we hypothesized that deaf individuals receiving a genetic explanation for why they are deaf will experience increased psychological well-being. We report results from a prospective, longitudinal study to determine the impact of genetic testing (GJB2, Cx26; GJB6, Cx30) on perceived personal control (PPC), anxiety, and depression in deaf adults (N=209) assessed following pre-test genetic counseling as well as 1-month and 6-months following test result disclosure. Participants were classified as Cx positive (n=82) or Cx negative/inconclusive (n=127). There was significant evidence for Cx group differences in PPC and anxiety over time (PPC: Cx group*time interaction p=0.0007; anxiety: Cx group*time interaction p=0.002), where PPC scores were significantly higher, and anxiety scores were significantly lower for the Cx positive group relative to the negative/inconclusive group following test result disclosure. Compared to pre-test, PPC scores increased at 1-month (p=0.07) and anxiety scores decreased at 6-months for the Cx positive group (p=0.03). In contrast, PPC scores decreased (p=0.009, p<0.0001) and anxiety scores increased (p=0.09, p=0.02) for the Cx negative/inconclusive group at 1- and 6-months post test result disclosure. Genetic testing for deaf genes affects the psychological well-being of deaf individuals. Increasing deaf adults’ access to genetic testing may potentially enhance self-knowledge and increase psychological well-being for those who receive a genetic explanation, which could offer downstream health benefits.
Genetic testing; deafness; deaf; sign language; hearing loss; psychological distress; perceived personal control; anxiety; depression; well-being
Next generation sequencing offers benefit of improved health through knowledge, but comes with challenges, such as inevitable incidental findings (IFs). The applicability of recommended criteria for disclosure of individual results when applied to disclosure of IFs is not well known. The purpose of this study was to examine how medical genetic specialists, genomic researchers, and Institutional Review Board (IRB) chairs perceive the importance of recommended criteria when applied to genetic/genomic IFs. We conducted telephone interviews with medical genetic specialists (genetic counselors, genetic nurses, medical geneticists, laboratory professionals), genomic researchers, and IRB chairs (N=103). Respondents rated and discussed the importance of nine recommended criteria regarding disclosure of genetic/genomic IFs. Stakeholders agreed the most important criteria for disclosure were: (1) the IF points to a life-threatening condition; (2) there is a treatment; (3) individuals indicate in writing they wanted to be informed of IFs. Criteria rated less important were: analytic validity, high penetrance, association with a young age of onset and relative risk more than 2.0. Respondents indicated that some technical criteria were confusing, and in need of context. Our findings suggest that development of guidelines regarding management of IF include multiple stakeholders' perspectives and be based on a common language.
Incidental findings; institutional review board; human genome; genetic research; biomedical ethics; genetic testing
Genetic counselors have a long-standing history of working on the clinical forefront of implementing new genetic technology. Genomic sequencing is no exception. The rapid advancement of genomic sequencing technologies, including but not limited to next generation sequencing approaches, across all subspecialties of genetic counseling mandates attention to genetic counselor training at both the graduate and continuing education levels. The current era provides a tremendous opportunity for counselors to become actively involved in making genomics more accessible, engaging the population in decisions to undergo sequencing and effectively translating genomic information to promote health and well-being. In this commentary, we explore reasons why genomic sequencing warrants particular consideration and put forward strategies for training program curricula and continuing education programs to meet this need.
Genomics; Next Generation Sequencing; Genetic Counseling Training; Continuing Education
Family communication is the primary, initial means of educating the next, at-risk generation about hereditary cancer risk. In this study, in-depth parent narratives provided self-report of motivations, planning, satisfactions and regrets associated with sharing or not sharing maternal BRCA1/2 test results with young children and advice for parents considering disclosure and for genetic counselors. Interviews were conducted with 32 mothers tested for BRCA1/2 with children ages 8–21 years and 24 of their co-parents; interview narratives were analyzed qualitatively. Parents were concerned with both protecting and educating children about hereditary cancer risk. They expressed confidence that parents can constructively convey genetic information to minor children. Telling relieved most parents and satisfied a sense of parental duty. Parents strongly advised child-specific, age-appropriate tailoring of genetic information and emphasized conveying the positive, preventive utility of genetic information to children. Immunizing effects of disclosure were viewed as providing forewarning about and preparation for possible later family cancer diagnoses. Parents choosing not to tell children were advised to consider future disclosure. Narratives about parental sharing of BRCA1/2 test results with minor children support the feasibility of parental discussion of maternal genetic test results to the next at-risk generation. Results suggest development of intervention tools for parents would support decision-making and family communication and potentially reduce parental worry and regret. Recommendations are made for more active involvement by genetic counselors with tested parents around the topic of delivery of genetic information to children.
BRCA1/2; genetic testing; family communication; hereditary breast/ovarian cancer; prevention
The types, interpretation, and use of first- and second-trimester aneuploidy screening are often unclear for many women. This impairs appropriate decision making and understanding of the implications of prenatal genetic testing options. The purpose of this study was to examine the utilization of Stepwise Sequential screening in our Midwestern population, demographic factors associated with choice of screening and method of risk reporting and it’s potential impact on women’s choices. First trimester screening was performed for 2,634 women during the study period. Results were not reported or “framed” as “positive” or “negative”. Rather, the specific age-risk and screen-risk for T21 were relayed, along with options for follow-up Stepwise Sequential screening and invasive testing. Nearly 80 % of women declined Stepwise Sequential screening. Minorities and women of lower education were least likely to pursue further screening. Less than 4 % of the study population elected invasive testing. First trimester screening was associated with a 53 % reduction in amniocenteses and 20 % fewer CVS’s compared to pre-first trimester screening availability. Reporting age-and screen-risks for T21, rather than classifying results as “positive” or “negative” based on a pre-determined threshold, was associated with a low uptake of further testing.
Aneuploidy; Screening; First trimester; Second trimester; Amniocentesis; CVS
The goal of the Familial Dilated Cardiomyopathy (FDC) Research Project, initiated in 1993, has been to identify and characterize FDC genetic cause. All participating individuals have been consented for the return of genetic results, an important but challenging undertaking. Since the inception of the Project we have enrolled 606 probands, and 269 of these had 1670 family members also enrolled. Each subject was evaluated for idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy (IDC) and pedigrees were categorized as familial or sporadic. The coding regions of 14 genes were resequenced in 311 to 324 probands in five studies. Ninety-two probands were found to carry nonsynonymous rare variants absent in controls, and with Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment of 1988 (CLIA) compliant protocols, relevant genetic results were returned to these probands and their consented relatives by study genetic counselors and physicians in 353 letters. In 10 of the 51 families that received results >1 year ago, at least 23 individuals underwent CLIA confirmation testing for their family’s rare variant. Return of genetic results has been successfully undertaken in the FDC Research Project. This report describes the methods utilized in the process of returning research results. We use this information as a springboard for providing guidance to other genetic research groups and proposing future directions in this arena.
dilated cardiomyopathy; genetics; family studies; return of results; genetic counseling
Large-scale sequencing information may provide a basis for genetic tests for predisposition to common disorders. In this study, participants in the Coriell Personalized Medicine Collaborative (N = 53) with a personal and/or family history of Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder were interviewed based on the Health Belief Model around hypothetical intention to test one’s children for probability of developing a mood disorder. Most participants (87 %) were interested in a hypothetical test for children that had high (“90 %”) positive predictive value, while 51 % of participants remained interested in a modestly predictive test (“20 %”). Interest was driven by beliefs about effects of test results on parenting behaviors and on discrimination. Most participants favored testing before adolescence (64 %), and were reluctant to share results with asymptomatic children before adulthood. Participants anticipated both positive and negative effects of testing on parental treatment and on children’s self-esteem. Further investigation will determine whether these findings will generalize to other complex disorders for which early intervention is possible but not clearly demonstrated to improve outcomes. More information is also needed about the effects of childhood genetic testing and sharing of results on parent–child relationships, and about the role of the child in the decision-making process.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10897-014-9710-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Genetic testing; Children; Benefits; Risks; Positive predictive value; Mood disorders; Health Belief Model; Mood disorders
Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is being used for evaluation of individuals with undiagnosed disease of suspected genetic origin. Implementing WGS into clinical practice will place an increased burden upon care teams with regard to pre-test patient education and counseling about results. To quantitate the time needed for appropriate pre-test evaluation of participants in WGS testing, we documented the time spent by our clinical research group on various activities related to program preparation, participant screening, and consent prior to WGS. Participants were children or young adults with autism, intellectual or developmental disability, and/or congenital anomalies, who have remained undiagnosed despite previous evaluation, and their biologic parents. Results showed that significant time was spent in securing allocation of clinical research space to counsel participants and families, and in acquisition and review of participant’s medical records. Pre-enrollment chart review identified two individuals with existing diagnoses resulting in savings of $30,000 for the genome sequencing alone, as well as saving hours of personnel time for genome interpretation and communication of WGS results. New WGS programs should plan for costs associated with additional pre-test administrative planning and patient evaluation time that will be required to provide high quality care.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10897-014-9697-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Whole genome sequencing; Time study; Electronic health record; Genetic counseling; Intellectual disability
Many questions remain concerning whether, when, and how physicians order genetic tests, and what factors are involved in their decisions. We surveyed 220 internists from two academic medical centers about their utilization of genetic testing. Rates of genetic utilizations varied widely by disease. Respondents were most likely to have ordered tests for Factor V Leiden (16.8%), followed by Breast/Ovarian Cancer (15.0%). In the past 6 months, 65% had counseled patients on genetic issues, 44% had ordered genetic tests, 38.5% had referred patients to a genetic counselor or geneticist, and 27.5% had received ads from commercial labs for genetic testing. Only 4.5% had tried to hide or disguise genetic information, and <2% have had patients report genetic discrimination. Only 53.4% knew of a geneticist/genetic counselor to whom to refer patients. Most rated their knowledge as very/somewhat poor concerning genetics (73.7%) and guidelines for genetic testing (87.1%). Most felt needs for more training on when to order tests (79%), and how to counsel patients (82%), interpret results (77.3%), and maintain privacy (80.6%). Physicians were more likely to have ordered a genetic test if patients inquired about genetic testing (p<.001), and if physicians had a geneticist/genetic counselor to whom to refer patients (p<.002), had referred patients to a geneticist/genetic counselor in the past 6 months, had more comfort counseling patients about testing (p<.019), counseled patients about genetics, larger practices (p<.032), fewer African-American patients (p<.027), and patients who had reported genetic discrimination (p<.044). In a multiple logistic regression, ordering a genetic test was associated with patients inquiring about testing, having referred patients to a geneticist/genetic counselor and knowing how to order tests., These data suggest that physicians recognize their knowledge deficits, and are interested in training. These findings have important implications for future medical practice, research, and education.
genetic testing; medical education; doctor-patient communication; ethics; genetic discrimination; decision-making; genetic counseling
Much of the extant literature addressing the psychosocial aspects of BRCA1/2 mutation testing and risk management aggregates mutation carriers of all ages in study recruitment, data analysis, and interpretation. This analytic strategy does not adequately address the needs of the youngest genetic testing consumers, i.e., women aged 18–25. Despite low absolute cancer risk estimates before age 30, BRCA1/2 mutation-positive women aged 18–25 feel vulnerable to a cancer diagnosis but find themselves in a management quandary because the clinical utility of screening and prevention options are not yet well defined for such young carriers.
We present three cases, selected from a larger study of 32 BRCA1/2 mutation-positive women who completed or considered genetic testing before age 25, to demonstrate the unique developmental, relational and temporal influences, as well as the challenges, experienced by very young BRCA mutation-positive women as they complete genetic testing and initiate cancer risk management. The first case describes the maturation of a young woman whose family participated in a national cancer registry. The second addresses the experiences and expectations of a young woman who completed genetic testing after learning that her unaffected father was a mutation carrier. The third case highlights the experiences of a young woman parentally bereaved in childhood, who presented for genetic counseling and testing due to intense family pressure.
Together, these cases suggest that BRCA1/2-positive women aged 18–25 are challenged to reconcile their burgeoning independence from their families with risk-related support needs. Loved ones acting in ways meant to care for these young women may inadvertently apply pressure, convoluting family support dynamics and autonomous decision-making. Ongoing support from competent healthcare professionals will enable these young women to remain informed and receive objective counsel about their risk-management decisions.
BRCA1/2 genetic mutations; hereditary cancer; family relations; human development; genetic testing stress; family influence on genetic testing
Despite significant progress in genomics research over the past decade, we remain years away from the integration of genomics into routine clinical care. As an initial step toward the implementation of genomic-based medicine, we explored primary care patients’ ideas about genomic testing for common complex diseases to help develop future patient education materials and interventions to communicate genomic risk information. We conducted a mixed-methods study with participants from a large primary care clinic. Within four focus groups, we used a semi-structured discussion guide and administered brief pre- and post- discussion quantitative surveys to assess participants’ interest, attitudes, and preferences related to testing and receipt of test results. Prior to the discussion, moderators presented a plain-language explanation of DNA and genetics, defined “SNP”, and highlighted what is known and unknown about the risks associated with testing for SNPs related to colorectal cancer risk. We used the NVIVO 8 software package to analyze the transcripts from the focus group discussions.
The majority of participants (75%) were “very” or “somewhat interested” in receiving information from a colon cancer SNP test, even after learning about and discussing the small and still clinically uncertain change in risk conferred by SNPs. Reported interest in testing was related to degree of risk conferred, personal risk factors, family history, possible implications for managing health /disease prevention and curiosity about genetic results. Most people (85%) preferred that genetic information be delivered in person by a healthcare or genetics professional rather than through print materials or a computer. These findings suggest that patients may look to genetic counselors, physicians or other healthcare professionals as gatekeepers of predictive genomic risk information.
Attitudes; Colorectal cancer risk; Focus group; Genomics; Singl-enucleotide polymorphisms; Translational research
Most children with chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11DS) have an IQ in the range that may allow them to be capable of understanding a genetic diagnosis despite mild intellectual disabilities. However, there are no publications that relate to the disclosure of a 22q11DS diagnosis to the affected child, or the factors that influence parents’ disclosure to the child. A pilot study was conducted including eight semi-structured interviews with caregivers of children with 22q11DS, 10 to 17 years of age, to investigate the factors that influence how parents inform their children of the diagnosis. Six of eight participants had disclosed the diagnosis to the child, and most of these parents felt they could have benefited from additional advice from professionals to increase their confidence and success, as well as the child’s comprehension of the information. Those who had not informed the child were uncertain about the words to use, how to initiate the conversation, or were concerned about the child’s level of understanding. Our results demonstrate that genetics professionals should help prepare caregivers for conversations with their children about the diagnosis of 22q11DS, monitor the understanding of the diagnosis over time, and provide ongoing support.
22q11.2 deletion syndrome; Velocardiofacial syndrome; DiGeorge syndrome; information sharing; family communication; genetic counseling; qualitative research
It is predicted that the rapid acquisition of new genetic knowledge and
related applications during the next decade will have significant implications
for virtually all members of society. Currently, most people get exposed to
information about genes and genetics only through stories publicized in the
media. We sought to understand how individuals in the general population used
and understood the concepts of ‘genetics’ and
‘genes.’ During in-depth one-on-one telephone interviews with
adults in the U.S., we asked questions exploring their basic understanding of
these terms, as well as their belief as to the location of genes in the human
body. A wide-range of responses was received. Despite conversational familiarity
with genetic terminology, many noted frustration or were hesitant when trying to
answer these questions. In addition, some responses reflected a lack of
understanding about basic genetic science that may have significant implications
for broader public education measures in genetic literacy, genetic counseling,
public health practices, and even routine health care.
genetic counseling; genetic education; genetic literacy; public understanding of genetics
Advances in genetic epidemiology have increased understanding of common, polygenic preventable diseases such as type 2 diabetes. As genetic risk testing based on this knowledge moves into clinical practice, we propose that genetic counselors will need to expand their roles and adapt traditional counseling techniques for this new patient set. In this paper, we present a genetic counseling intervention developed for a clinical trial [Genetic Counseling/Lifestyle Change for Diabetes Prevention, ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT01034319] designed to motivate behavioral changes for diabetes prevention. Seventy-two phenotypically high-risk participants received counseling that included their diabetes genetic risk score, general education about diabetes risk factors, and encouragement to participate in a diabetes prevention program. Using two validated genetic counseling scales, participants reported favorable perceived control and satisfaction with the counseling session. Our intervention represents one model for applying traditional genetic counseling principles to risk testing for polygenetic, preventable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
Genetic counseling; Type 2 diabetes; Polygenic risk counseling; Diabetes prevention
The increasing incidence of breast cancer in the Arab world, coupled with a relatively early age of onset, raises concern for the presence of hereditary risk factors in this population. However, due to potential structural and cultural barriers, Arab Americans make up the smallest percentage of individuals tested for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome in the United States. The objectives of this qualitative pilot focus group of 13 Arab-American women were to explore attitudes, knowledge and beliefs regarding hereditary breast cancer in the Arab-American community in metropolitan Detroit, identify barriers that would prevent women from seeking hereditary cancer screening/testing and determine who women would talk to about inherited cancer. Results indicated that cultural beliefs and personal experiences with cancer influenced the women’s perspectives on hereditary cancer risk. A high level of secrecy about cancer within Arab-American families was present, which may prevent accurate risk assessment and referral for genetic services. Other identified barriers that may influence hereditary risk assessment included stigma, fears and misconceptions of cancer. While these barriers were present, participants also expressed a strong need for education and tailored cancer risk information for their community.
Arab-American; Hereditary breast cancer; Cancer risk; Cancer screening; Genetic counseling