Journal of Genetic Counseling

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 359–372 | Cite as

Genetic Counselors’ Experiences Regarding Communication of Reproductive Risks with Autosomal Recessive Conditions found on Cancer Panels

  • Sarah Mets
  • Rebecca Tryon
  • Patricia McCarthy Veach
  • Heather A. ZierhutEmail author
Original Research


The development of hereditary cancer genetic testing panels has altered genetic counseling practice. Mutations within certain genes on cancer panels pose not only a cancer risk, but also a reproductive risk for autosomal recessive conditions such as Fanconi anemia, constitutional mismatch repair deficiency syndrome, and ataxia telangiectasia. This study aimed to determine if genetic counselors discuss reproductive risks for autosomal recessive conditions associated with genes included on cancer panels, and if so, under what circumstances these risks are discussed. An on-line survey was emailed through the NSGC list-serv. The survey assessed 189 cancer genetic counselors' experiences discussing reproductive risks with patients at risk to carry a mutation or variant of uncertain significance (VUS) in a gene associated with both an autosomal dominant cancer risk and an autosomal recessive syndrome. Over half (n = 82, 55 %) reported having discussed reproductive risks; the remainder (n = 66, 45 %) had not. Genetic counselors who reported discussing reproductive risks primarily did so when patients had a positive result and were of reproductive age. Reasons for not discussing these risks included when a patient had completed childbearing or when a VUS was identified. Most counselors discussed reproductive risk after obtaining results and not during the informed consent process. There is inconsistency as to if and when the discussion of reproductive risks is taking place. The wide variation in responses suggests a need to develop professional guidelines for when and how discussions of reproductive risk for autosomal recessive conditions identified through cancer panels should occur with patients.


Cancer panels Fanconi anemia Constitutional mismatch repair deficiency syndrome Ataxia telangiectasia Reproductive risk Cancer genetic counseling Cancer risk 



This study was completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the first author’s Masters of Science degree from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Christina Palmer served as Action Editor on the manuscript review process and publication decision.

Conflict of Interest

Sarah Mets, Rebecca Tryon, Patricia McCarthy Veach, and Heather Zierhut declare they have no conflict of interest.

Human Studies and Informed Consent

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000 (5). Informed consent information was supplied and implied through participation in the on-line survey.

Animal Studies

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.


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Copyright information

© National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Mets
    • 1
  • Rebecca Tryon
    • 2
  • Patricia McCarthy Veach
    • 3
  • Heather A. Zierhut
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, & DevelopmentUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.Fairview Health ServicesMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Educational PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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