, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 366-378
Date: 21 May 2009

The Effectiveness of Family History Questionnaires in Cancer Genetic Counseling

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The number of individuals receiving genetic counseling for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome has steadily risen. To triage patients for genetic counseling and to help reduce the amount of time needed by a genetic counselor in direct patient contact, many clinics have implemented the use of family history questionnaires. Although such questionnaires are widely used, scant literature exists evaluating their effectiveness. This article explores the extent to which family history questionnaires are being used in Ontario and addresses the utility of such questionnaires in one familial cancer clinic. By comparing the pedigrees created from questionnaires to those updated during genetic counseling, the accuracy and effectiveness of the questionnaires was explored. Of 121 families recruited into the study, 12% acquired changes to their pedigree that led to a revised probability estimate for having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation and 5% acquired changes that altered their eligibility for genetic testing. No statistically significant difference existed between the eligibility for genetic testing prior to and post counseling. This suggests that family history questionnaires can be effective at obtaining a family history and accurately assessing eligibility for genetic testing. Based on the variables that were significantly associated with a change in probability estimate, we further present recommendations for improving the clarity of such questionnaires and therefore the ease of use by patients.