Genetic Testing and Your Relationships

Updated 
August 31, 2015
Taking the first step to see a geneticinfo-icon counselor or moving forward with genetic testinginfo-icon may leave you feeling everything from empowered to anxious. 
 
Your emotional reaction will be unique to you, and may even surprise you. There are no wrong reactions. Remember, your genetic counselor is available to talk with you about these emotions and how to deal with them. He or she can also recommend other useful coping resources.

Shared Family Risk

If your family has a strong history of breast and ovarian cancerinfo-icon, you may have grown up with relatives going through diagnosisinfo-icon and treatment. Watching their experiences may have left you with your own worries. Or, you may see breast cancer as a disease that you are prepared to face, as your family members have. 
 
In some families, a shared geneinfo-icon mutationinfo-icon may have a bonding effect. Knowing you have the same mutation may bring family members together because of common worries and challenges. 
 
Mixed feelings are common if you learn you don’t carry a gene mutation that is in your family. Some women even feel guilty because they believe they’ve escaped something their relatives could not—a reaction known as survivor guilt. Try talking with people in your family about your feelings. You will likely find they are relieved to hear your risk is lower than their own. 

If You're the First in the Family to Get Tested

You may feel alone or confused if you are the first person in your family to have testing. As the first, you are likely learning a lot very quickly. If you are newly diagnosed , you may feel pressure to make your treatment decisions while also educating your family about their potential risk. You may want to take time to process your thoughts before talking with your family. Or, you may choose to talk with only a few relatives at a time so that it is less overwhelming. Making treatment decisions should be your first priority.
 
On the other hand, many women find their role as a source of information to their family empowering. The ability to help other family members through the genetic testinginfo-icon process can be rewarding. Discovering the reason your family has seen so much cancer may ease their stressinfo-icon
 
If you are uncomfortable informing your family, a geneticinfo-icon counselor can educate family members for you.

Intimate Relationships

A breast cancer diagnosisinfo-icon, as well as genetic testinginfo-icon, may affect your intimate relationships in unexpected ways. The status of a current relationship, the treatments you choose and your age may all play a part in how you feel. 
 
Communicating clearly about your worries and fears is key to how both you and your partner respond to facing this challenge together.

If You Test Positive

If you test positive for a geneinfo-icon mutationinfo-icon, you may choose to have a double mastectomyinfo-icon  or to have your ovaries  removed to reduce your risk of future breast or ovarian cancerinfo-icon. No matter your relationship status, both surgeries can have a strong effect on body imageinfo-icon . You may worry that you or your partner will lose interest in your physical relationship . If you’re single, you may worry that dating will be more difficult. 

Talking About Fertility

Because a mutationinfo-icon can be passed to your future children, it’s important to keep your partner informed. Your partner may want to see the geneticinfo-icon counselor with you to both support you and to learn what a mutation means. Giving your partner an active role in counselinginfo-icon and testing may strengthen your relationship. 
 
If you plan to have children in the future, you may worry about fertilityinfo-icon . Some of the preventiveinfo-icon treatments for positive test results may delay or end your ability to get pregnant. You may suddenly feel pressure to plan for your future family. It can feel overwhelming to have the plans for your future changed because of something beyond your control. 
 
Know that many family planning options are available to help you make decisions about building your family while lowering cancer risk. Talk with your genetic counselor, a social workerinfo-icon or your oncologistinfo-icon about preserving your fertility. 

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Media: Presentation October 31, 2016