Van der Meer LB, van Duijn E, Wolterbeek R, Tibben A. Adverse childhood experiences of persons at risk for Huntington's disease or BRCA1/2 hereditary breast/ovarian cancer.
Huntington's disease (HD) is known to have a negative impact on family life. Offspring of HD patients may be exposed to adversity in childhood because of the parent's disease and its psychological consequences. BRCA1/2 hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (BRCA1/2) increases the risk for offspring of being exposed to parental disease or loss. Childhood adversity is associated with psychopathology and various other problems in later life. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) before age 16 were assessed in adults at 50% risk for HD (n = 74) or BRCA1/2 (n = 82) and in controls (n = 101), using the Negative Life Events Scale. Mean number and occurrence of ACEs were compared between groups. The odds of having experienced adversity in childhood were higher in HD offspring and BRCA1/2 offspring than in controls. HD offspring reported a higher mean number of ACEs than controls or BRCA1/2 offspring. In HD offspring, the prevalence of parental disease and parental dysfunction experienced before age 16 was higher than in controls. In BRCA1/2 offspring, the prevalence of parental loss before age 16 was higher than in controls. This study indicates that 53% of HD offspring and 45% of BRCA1/2 offspring are exposed to adversity in childhood or adolescence. The relevance of these findings for counseling in predictive testing programs, reproductive decision-making, and child rearing matters is discussed.