Cystic fibrosis newborn screening: impact on reproductive behavior and implications for genetic counseling

E H Mischler, B S Wilfond, N Fost, A Laxova, C Reiser, C M Sauer, L M Makholm, G Shen, L Feenan, C McCarthy, P M Farrell
Pediatrics 1998, 102 (1): 44-52

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the impact of newborn screening for cystic fibrosis (CF) on the reproductive knowledge and behavior of CF families and to determine if heterozygote detection with the immunoreactive trypsinogen (IRT) method in conjunction with DNA analysis (IRT/DNA) influences knowledge and attitudes about reproduction in false-positive families.

METHODS: The Wisconsin CF Neonatal Screening Project investigated 650 340 infants from 1985 to 1994 in a comprehensive randomized controlled trial to study both benefits and risks of newborn screening and to determine if early diagnosis would improve the prognosis of children with CF. Assessments of reproductive knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of 135 families of children diagnosed as having CF in both the early treatment group and control groups were made 3 months after diagnosis using a questionnaire which was completed by 100 families. The same questionnaire was administered 1 year later to evaluate retention of information. It was completed by 71 families. A follow-up assessment tool was also administered in 1994 and responses obtained from 73 families. Knowledge, attitudes, and behavior among false-positive families were also assessed at the time of the sweat test in 206 families who experienced IRT screening and 109 families tested with the IRT/DNA method. Follow-up assessments were completed 1 year later in 106 IRT families and 63 IRT/DNA families.

RESULTS: In families with a CF child, 95% initially understood that there was a 1 in 4 risk in subsequent pregnancies, and there was good retention of this information 1 year later. At the 1994 assessment, 52% of families had not yet conceived more children, but 74% of these already had children. In the couples in whom CF was diagnosed in the first child, 70% (95% confidence interval = 54% to 85%) conceived more children. There were 43 subsequent pregnancies in 31 families. Prenatal diagnosis was used by 26% of the families (8/31) for 21% of the pregnancies (9/43). There were 3 pregnancies with CF detected, all of which were carried to term. In the false-positive groups, >95% of families initially understood that their child definitely did not have CF. There was no difference between false-positive IRT and IRT/DNA groups, and the information was retained at 1 year. Follow-up assessment 1 year after negative sweat tests revealed that 7% of the IRT and 10% of the IRT/DNA families still thought about the results often or constantly. When asked whether the experience of screening affected feelings about having more children, an affirmative response was obtained in 4% of IRT families but in 17% of IRT/DNA families. One year later, more than half of the false-positive IRT/DNA families did not understand that they were at increased risk of having a child with CF.

CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that CF neonatal screening does not have a significant impact on the reproductive behavior of most families and that prenatal diagnosis is not used by the majority of CF families. IRT/DNA testing experiences seem to affect attitudes about having more children, and some parents are confused about the implications of the results, even with genetic counseling. However, persistent concerns about the sweat test result are limited. Questions raised by this study confirm the need for more research regarding the process of genetic counseling and its impact on reproductive attitudes and behavior in the newborn screening setting.

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