Women’s Metaphors About BRCA Gene Testing and How They Can Inform Health Communication Theory and Practice

Summer C. Martin, Allison M. Scott, Anne M. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Genetic testing can detect whether an individual carries a harmful variant in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 (Breast Cancer 1 or 2) gene which, if present, drastically increases a woman’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The experience of BRCA gene testing can be an emotionally laden process yielding significant uncertainty. In this study, we examined women’s experiences of BRCA gene testing by exploring how participants communicatively framed and made sense of this process through the use of metaphors. Comparing uncertain and unfamiliar experiences to familiar references through metaphor can help people in challenging health-related situations with sense-making and communicating complex emotions. Furthermore, metaphors can be employed as a therapeutic tool by health care professionals, but their use has not often been studied regarding experiences of genetic testing, including BRCA gene testing. We conducted in-depth interviews with 42 women who have undergone BRCA gene testing (regardless of results), and analyzed data using constant comparative techniques. Eight categories of metaphors that women used surrounding BRCA gene testing were evident in the data, including those related to (a) knowledge is power; (b) gambling; (c) a journey; (d) a rollercoaster; (e) battle, disaster, or wreckage; (f) Pandora’s box or a can of worms; (g) doom and gloom; and (h) the release or placing of a weight. Results enhance our understanding of women’s experiences related to the uncertainty-inducing process of BRCA gene testing and lead to valuable theoretical implications and practical recommendations, including regarding the potential use of metaphors in patient-provider communication about BRCA genetic risk.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Communication
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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