Discussing genetic testing with your family

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People can react differently to new information about the health of a loved one, or their own risk. For tips on how to prepare for and have these conversations, watch our video:

Your genetics counsellor can help you think about when and how you talk to your family about genetic testing, if you decide this is something you want to do. You may wish to talk to relatives to help you decide whether or not to have the test. Some relatives may wish to have a test too, but some may prefer not to or might not be eligible. Each family member has the right to make their own choice.

The results of tests may affect your family in ways you might not anticipate. They can sometimes cause upset or problems with family relationships, for example some relatives may rather not know whether there is a genetic fault running in the family. In rare cases, genetic testing can also uncover instances of adoption and non-paternity (where a father is found not to be a blood relative of a child), which might not have been common knowledge in the family.

However, some families find that genetic testing brings them closer together and helps them address concerns about breast cancer risk.

After you have genetic testing

Whatever the outcome of your genetic test, it will have implications for you and your family. Your specialist will discuss with you what the genetic test results mean for you and your relatives. They can help you to decide if and when to tell your family and how to explain it. Many clinics are able to provide a letter for you to pass on to relatives, which explains what your test results may mean for them.

You and your relatives may react differently to hearing a genetic test result. It may take some time to process your feelings and thoughts.

Be aware that if a few of you are being tested, you may receive different test results. Some people may be confirmed to carry a faulty gene while others will find they do not. This can lead to a range of feelings, including those who are not at increased risk feeling guilty.

It is important to remember that genes are inherited by chance and that no one is to blame for the genes they inherit.

It’s also quite likely that the results will not successfully identify the genetic fault in your family, which will mean you and your family will still face uncertainties about your cancer risk.

Related information
Read our advice on getting the support and information you need.

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Learn about the process for genetic testing, including the counselling you will have beforehand

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Get advice on how to talk to your family about an increased risk of breast cancer

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