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Virtual counselor supplements traditional genetic counseling

HERSHEY, PAAn interactive computer program developed at Penn State College of Medicine is as effective as one-on-one genetic counseling for increasing knowledge of breast cancer and genetic testing among women at low risk for breast cancer.

Counselors were, however, more effective than the computer program at reducing women's anxiety and helping them to more clearly understand their risk, reported the study published today (July 28, 2004) in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"These results suggest that the computer program has the potential to stand alone as an educational intervention for low-risk women, but should be used in combination with one-on-one genetic counseling for women at high risk," said Michael J. Green, M.D., M.S., associate professor of humanities and medicine, Penn State College of Medicine. "The computer program is an alternative means of communicating information about genetic testing and may help women without access to genetic counselors to decide whether or not to have genetic testing for susceptibility to breast cancer."

Most women concerned that they are at risk for developing breast cancer are referred to genetic counselors who can assess a women's risk, advise her about testing and explain the options. But, with only about 400 genetic counselors in the U.S. who specialize in cancer genetic counseling and most located in urban areas, many women do not have access to genetic counseling for cancer.

"The reason we developed the computer education program was to try to fill this educational need," Green said. "Our previous studies showed that the program is acceptable to genetic counselors and their clients, and effective at increasing knowledge about breast cancer risk and genetic testing."

The computer program, called "Breast Cancer Risk & Genetic Testing," delivers much of the information a genetic counselor would. Its purpose is to help women make inform
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Contact: Valerie Gliem
vgliem@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
27-Jul-2004


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