Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

MS in Public Health (M.S.P.H.)

Degree Granting Department

Global Health

Major Professor

Deborah Cragun, Ph.D., M.S., C.G.C.

Committee Member

Marleah Dean Kruzel, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Susan Vadaparampil,Ph.D., M.P.H.


BRCA2, CHEK2, decision making, genetic counseling, interview


Despite national guidelines, women with a BRCA VUS or CHEK2 pathogenic variant are choosing to have risk-reducing surgeries such as bilateral mastectomies which are not aligned with their level of cancer risk based on genetic test results alone. Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 6 women with a BRCA VUS and 12 with a CHEK2 pathogenic variant exploring the factors influencing their decision-making process when considering medical management options. Patients from a cancer registry agreed to a recorded telephone interview. Coding was performed using the main constructs from the Ottawa Patient Decision Guide including: knowledge, uncertainty, values, and support. Iterative analysis was used to identify emerging themes.

Analysis of the interviews revealed overlapping of the four constructs in the decision-making process. The knowledge sought to make medical management decisions was driven by the uncertainty associated with the genetic test results. Participants often contextualized their risk by building on the risk associated with genetic test results with family history, variant re-interpretation, and the knowledge that the risks associated with other genes may be higher. Patients generally made the decision they thought was best for them, even though it was more difficult if that decision was not supported by healthcare providers, friends, or family. When faced with uncertain cancer risks and presented with options for medical management, values were weighed against the negatives of each option. Often mental health was prioritized over the negatives associated with ‘removing body parts’.

These findings offer a look into the decisional needs of patients such as accurate knowledge, certainty, decisional support, and attention to personal values. Better understanding of the unmet needs of these patients and working to rectify them through provider education, outreach, counseling strategies to mitigate uncertainty, and research on how to best address and identify each patient’s specific decisional needs can contribute to the goal of risk-appropriate and values-based decision-making. With a better understanding of patients’ decisional needs, healthcare providers can better advocate for tailored counseling sessions which explore and address specific patient needs to help them make informed, risk-appropriate, and value-based medical management decisions.