Patients' perspectives of variants of uncertain significance and strategies for uncertainty management

Sukh Makhnoon, Brian H. Shirts, Deborah J. Bowen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Variants of uncertain significance (VUS) are a well-recognized source of uncertainty in genomic medicine. Despite the existence of straightforward clinical management recommendations, patients report feeling anxiety, worry, and uncertainty in response to VUS. We report the first structured analysis of patient perspectives of VUS-related uncertainty in genome sequencing using Han's taxonomy of genomic uncertainty. We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with 11 patients to elicit their thoughts regarding implications of the result for themselves and their family members. Patients' primary concern with VUS-related uncertainty involved personal and practical issues as they directly inform health-care decisions. Patients demonstrated good understanding of the epistemic nature of VUS uncertainty—that information about such variant is currently unknown. However, between-provider discordance in explanations of the implication of this uncertainty for patients' diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy was a major contributor to the overall experience of uncertainty. Strategies for uncertainty reduction involved periodically checking back for reclassification and receiving concordant and clear recommendation from providers. Other proactive strategies of uncertainty reduction—such as information seeking and reading the genetic test report—were not helpful. Collectively, these findings offer previously unreported insight into uncertainty management strategies used by patients which have the potential to guide clinical management practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-325
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Genetic Counseling
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • VUS
  • management
  • tolerance
  • uncertainty
  • variants of uncertain significance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)


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