Often teens feel that finding out about the potential risk so early gives them a sense of control. But not everyone agrees. Dr. Ruth Oratz, a medical oncologist and breast cancer specialist at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, worries that parents who inform their children about a potential genetic risk do not alleviate anxiety but instead hamper their teenager’s ability to live freely. Some feel that the stress of not knowing is worse than knowing and opt for testing. Some women feel that the burden of knowledge is too big for adolescents.
There can be a tremendous sense of guilt about the possibility of passing along a harmful gene. It is a natural to wish to protect your child, but the randomness of the inherited mutations can leave a parent feeling very helpless especially if the child does test positive for the gene. It is important for parents to remember that what they pass on to their children is far greater than one gene alone. This is an opportunity to show them how you cope when life gets hard and what you do in times of uncertainty. Parents have control about what kind of parent they want to be.
How the risk is communicated also matters. Daughters are more likely to be anxious if mothers are anxious. Adults should get the support they need first by talking to genetic counselors or a therapist before sharing the information with their children or siblings. Experts recommend using your child’s age, personality and maturity as a guide. Be straightforward and honest but don’t use confusing euphemisms or dump everything on your child at once. Keep an open-door policy about questions, share your feelings and know that it’s O.K. to say, “I don’t know.”
If you have any further questions, we are here for you at the PINK Breast Center.