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Genetic Counselling: The Benefits of an Early Risk Assessment

It can help to clear such doubts and misinformation that you might have

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We often find that a lot of common knowledge about complex and disturbing diseases like cancer is highly inaccurate. Things start out as stories and incidents that have happened to someone and get passed around from person to person. In this game of Chinese whispers, every time information gets passed around it changes a little until, bit-by-bit, it no longer resembles the original information.

Genetic counselling can help to clear such doubts and misinformation that you might have. Diseases like cancer can raise anxiety in the person suffering from it as well as in caregivers. It is expected that a patient will feel anxious about various issues related to cancer. However, an observed trend is also the anxiety amongst people who perceive themselves at risk for familial cancer or amongst those who have lost family members to cancer. For many, the reason behind not opting for genetic counselling is often the old saying: "Let sleeping dogs lie."

There have been multiple studies that have examined the impact of genetic counselling in women who were affected by breast cancer and those who were healthy. One such study was conducted by a group of psychologists from Australia wherein researchers estimated the levels of knowledge and awareness about breast cancer in a group of 128 women. All the respondents were at risk for hereditary breast cancer. They were interviewed twice - once before the counselling and once post counselling.

The counselling sessions provided two major benefits - participants were more aware of the breast cancer genetics and their feelings of anxiety had reduced considerably because of the awareness created by the counselling sessions. These findings are quite important and show that genetic counselling can benefit women who are at risk.

Another smaller study has gone a step ahead and also provided counselling about getting regular breast self-exams and MRI surveillance to women who were at high-risk for breast cancer. These sessions encouraged the group of women that received the instructional training to perform self-exams and attend preventive screening appointments more frequently.

Judging from these examples, it appears that genetic counselling alone can dispel fear and anxiety associated with risk for getting breast cancer and can motivate women to step up preventive efforts against breast cancer.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Genetic Counselling risk assessment chinese whispers

Dr Vijay Chandru

Dr. Chandru has three decades of experience straddling various geographies, academic environments and industries. He was elected a Fellow of the Indian Academies of Sciences and Engineering. Dr. Chandru is an Adjunct Faculty at the Centre for Biosystems Science and Engineering (BSSE) at IISc in Bangalore.

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