Updated 09 March 2017

Teen girls respond positively to knowing their breast cancer risk

Girls with a family history of breast cancer do worry more than their peers, but it doesn't seem to impact them in terms of depression and anxiety.


Knowing they have a family history of breast cancer or a high-risk gene mutation doesn't lead to increased anxiety or depression in teen girls, a new study finds.

Psychosocial adjustment

These teens may actually have greater self-esteem and a better understanding of cancer risk than their peers, researchers said.

"Overall, girls in families with a history of breast cancer seem to cope pretty well over time," said study author Dr Angela Bradbury. She is an assistant professor of haematology/oncology at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Centre in Philadelphia.

Read: How breast cancer changed my life for the better

"They do worry more about breast cancer than their peers do, particularly as they get older, but that doesn't seem to impact them in terms of depression, anxiety and general psychosocial adjustment," Bradbury explained in a university news release.

The study included 320 girls, aged 11 to 19. Of those girls, 208 were from families with a history of breast cancer or high-risk BRCA 1/2 mutations in close relatives. The other 112 were "controls" with no such family history.

Adaptive responses

Participants were interviewed to assess their mental health, perception of breast cancer risk, and levels of distress about breast cancer.

The investigators found that girls with a family history of breast cancer had higher levels of self-esteem.

Read: Cancer diagnosis difficult in rural South Africa

"Self-esteem was higher among girls with a stronger family history of breast cancer, whereas depression was lower with increasing number of relatives with breast cancer," Bradbury said.

"It may be that exposure to relatives with cancer fosters adaptive responses, although there may be other individual, mother, and family factors at work here."

The researchers are now investigating how increased concerns about breast cancer risk affect the behaviours of teen girls as they age, and whether they require help.

"If it's a harmful thing for a girl to know she's at risk, we need to know which girls are anxious and how we can help them, and if it's a beneficial thing, we need to know how best to capitalise on it," Bradbury said.

A 2015 study from the same research team revealed similar findings in girls aged 10 to 13.

The new study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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