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Am J Prev Med. 2003 Feb;24(2):183-9.

Effecting behavior change: awareness of family history.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, 3535 Market Street, Suite 4100, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


This article explores the use of family history of disease as a public health tool for risk stratification and improved disease prevention by drawing from previous research on women at moderate risk of developing breast cancer because of a positive family history. About one quarter to one third of women do not appear to be aware of the added risk a family history of breast cancer poses, and many women with a family history overestimate their risk. It is unclear whether risk perceptions are causally related to breast cancer screening in women with a family history. Exaggerated risk perceptions may not hinder breast cancer screening, unless accompanied by distress. Studies suggest that counseling women with a family history of breast cancer about their risk has a small and short-term effect on risk comprehension, a small effect on breast cancer screening, psychological benefits for some women, and unintended negative effects on screening for other women. Future research needs to consider the psychological, individual difference, and cultural variables that moderate counseling effects, recruitment biases, the prospective relationship between perceived risk and breast cancer screening, and whether risk perceptions and comprehension need to match objective risk to be an effective tool to promote screening.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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