Study Examines How Family History of Breast Cancer Impacts Girls’ Psychosocial Development

In families with higher rates of breast cancer, teen girls experience higher levels of distress about their cancer risk, according to new research being published in Pediatrics.

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 800 girls, ages 6 to 13 years, and their mothers in families with and without a family history of breast cancer to see how the diagnosis impacts girls' psychosocial development.

The study, "Psychosocial Adjustment in School-age Girls with a Family History of Breast Cancer," in the November 2015 issue of Pediatrics (published online, Oct. 19), is the largest study to-date of girls growing up in families affected by breast cancer.

Researchers found that girls from breast cancer families did not have worse general psychosocial adjustment than their peers. But girls from families at risk of breast cancer did experience higher cancer-specific distress than peers without a family history of the disease. And girls from breast cancer families had a higher perceived risk for themselves. Perceived higher risk was in turn associated with a higher amount of distress, which could be important because higher distress in childhood and adolescence is tied to risk-taking behaviors (eg: tobacco and alcohol use). Importantly, mother distress and anxiety was associated with daughter distress and anxiety.

The authors point out that these findings are important to note as genetic testing becomes more routine. Addressing the concerns not just of breast cancer survivors with daughters, but also "pre-vivor" mothers (women without cancer but with a genetic or family risk of breast cancer) may help young girls from breast cancer families achieve optimal general psychosocial development and reduce overall cancer-specific distress.

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