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Cancer. 2013 May 1;119(9):1722-8. doi: 10.1002/cncr.27924. Epub 2013 Feb 7.

The impact of having a sister diagnosed with breast cancer on cancer-related distress and breast cancer risk perception.

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Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



A family history of breast cancer has been shown to affect psychosocial functioning. However, the majority of research has focused on the daughters of patients with breast cancer and families with multiple relatives with the disease. The purpose of the current study was to examine cancer-related distress and breast cancer risk perception, and further examine the predictors of these outcomes, in the sisters of newly diagnosed patients with breast cancer without a previous family history of the disease.


Sisters of newly diagnosed index breast cancer patients were identified and asked to complete a study-specific questionnaire (demographics and cancer risk perception) and the Impact of Events Scale. Pathological information was abstracted from the medical chart for the index breast cancer patients.


A total of 205 sisters completed the questionnaires. The mean time between breast cancer diagnosis and the sisters' completion of the questionnaire was 9.8 months. Approximately one-half of the women scored in the moderate or severe distress range. The most significant predictor of cancer-related distress was perceived lifetime breast cancer risk (P = .04). Women with a lifetime risk of breast cancer > 20% were more than twice as likely to have moderate or severe distress compared with those with a lifetime risk of < 20%.


Cancer-related distress is high in the sisters of newly diagnosed patients with breast cancer in whom there is no other family history of breast cancer. Specifically, women with a perceived lifetime risk of breast cancer of > 20% experienced the highest levels of distress. Future interventions that target this group should be considered.

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