Anita Kinney, PhD, RN
Anita Kinney, PhD, RN, is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the UNM Department of Internal Medicine, and she is the Carolyn R. Surface Endowed Chair in Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the UNM School of Medicine. She also serves as associate director for cancer control and population sciences at the UNM Cancer Center. 

A new study led by a University of New Mexico cancer researcher is offering hope to women in rural New Mexico who want to learn more about their risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The study – published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology – shows that getting cancer genetic counseling over the phone can be just as effective as getting the same counseling in person. That's good news for women who live in rural communities, where the prospect of traveling to meet in person with cancer genetic counselors can be a time-consuming and expensive challenge. 

“This study provides important evidence that telephone counseling is an effective alternative to in-person counseling,” says Anita Kinney, PhD, RN, associate director for cancer control and population sciences at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It can help to make cancer genetic services more widely accessible, which is an important consideration in rural states like New Mexico. We hope that our study’s results will help increase health insurance coverage of telephone counseling so that more cancer patients and their family members can benefit from potentially lifesaving cancer risk information.”

All women who took part in the study were at increased risk for hereditary breast or ovarian cancer. The researchers divided the women into two groups. One group traveled to meet in person with a cancer genetic counselor and the other received counseling over the telephone. Both groups of women received teaching materials and letters about their risk in the mail. With the women’s permission, letters about their risk and how to manage it were mailed to their doctors.

One year after their counseling, the study assessed how the women felt: their anxiety and cancer-related distress, and how much control and how informed they felt about their risk and medical recommendations. It also tracked how many women went on to get genetic testing. Both groups benefited similarly from genetic counseling, researchers found.