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Behavioral risk factors among women presenting for genetic testing.

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Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Considerable research attention has been given to the impact of genetic testing on psychological outcomes. Participation in genetic testing also may impact on health behaviors that increase the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. The purpose of this study is to describe behavioral cancer risk factors of women who requested genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility (BRCA1, BRCA2). Before participation in a genetic testing program, 119 women completed a series of questionnaires designed to assess their health behaviors, perception of risk, and depressive symptomatology. Eight percent of participants were current smokers, 27% did not engage in at least moderate exercise, 46% did not regularly protect themselves from the sun, 39% did not consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and 9% drank at least one alcoholic beverage per day. Poisson regression analysis revealed that age was the only predictor of behavioral risk profiles, with older women having fewer cancer risk behaviors. These patients who presented for genetic testing generally had better health behaviors than the general population. However, given their possible high-risk status, these patients should consider further improving their preventable cancer risk factors and, in particular, their diet, sun protection, and physical activity levels. Inclusion of behavioral risk factor counseling in the context of the genetic testing process may be an important opportunity to reach this at-risk population.

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