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Testing positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations increases the likelihood of developing breast and ovarian cancers before age 70. Prognoses and recurrence rates for individuals with these mutations have been substantially worse than those of patients with breast and ovarian cancer who test negative for these mutations. For those living with BRCA1/2, the ever-present risk of cancer and ongoing surveillance and risk-reduction surgeries can lead to mental health challenges.

In this study, published in Cancer Research, researchers sought to learn whether race, ethnicity, and economic status can predict increased depression, anxiety, and cancer empowerment among BRCA1/2-positive women.

The researchers recruited 225 women with BRCA1/2 genetic mutations from private Facebook support communities. Each participant identified with at least one historically-disadvantaged condition: racial, ethnic, or sexual minority; physical disability; chronically ill; poverty; Ashkenazi Jewish heritage; or part of an immigrant group. Participants took an online survey, which collected demographic, clinical cancer, and genetic testing information and measured for anxiety, depressive symptoms, and cancer empowerment.

The final models were adjusted for marital status, education, age at interview, survivor/control status, employment status, years since genetic testing, number of comorbidities, and family history of breast/ovarian cancers.

Ultimately, 70 women with a history of breast and ovarian cancer and 138 without completed the online survey. Most of the study participants self-reported being non-Hispanic white, and nearly a quarter reported living in poverty. All reported at least one chronic illness, most commonly depression and obesity.

Moreover, the researchers found significantly higher odds of depression and anxiety among BRCA1/2-positive Hispanic women (3.52 and 4.99, respectively) compared to non-Hispanic white women. Lastly, race and poverty status did not significantly predict worse anxiety or depression, and associations with cancer empowerment were insignificant.

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These findings demonstrate the need for better mental health care among BRCA1/2-positive Hispanic women. Additional research is needed among other racial and ethnic minorities who are BRCA1/2-positive to understand how their mental health can be improved [1].


[1] Dibble, K. E., & Connor, A. E. (2022). Abstract P3-12-13: Evaluation of disparities in anxiety, depression, and cancer empowerment in a study of BRCA1/2-positive females in the United States. Cancer Research, 82(4_Supplement), P3-12. https://doi.org/10.1158/1538-7445.sabcs21-p3-12-13