A systematic review of perceived risks, psychological and behavioral impacts of genetic testing

Genet Med. 2008 Jan;10(1):19-32. doi: 10.1097/GIM.0b013e31815f524f.


Genetic testing may enable early disease detection, targeted surveillance, and result in effective prevention strategies. Knowledge of genetic risk may also enable behavioral change. However, the impact of carrier status from the psychological, behavior, and perceived risk perspectives is not well understood. We conducted a systematic review to summarize the available literature on these elements. An extensive literature review was performed to identify studies that measured the perceived risk, psychological, and/or behavioral impacts of genetic testing on individuals. The search was not limited to specific diseases but excluded the impacts of testing for single gene disorders. A total of 35 articles and 30 studies were included. The studies evaluated hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal carcinoma, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, and Alzheimer disease. For affective outcomes, the majority of the studies reported negative effects on carriers but these were short-lived. For behavioral outcomes, an increase in screening behavior of varying rates was demonstrated in carriers but the change in behaviors was less than expected. With respect to perceived risk, there were generally no differences between carriers and noncarriers by 12 months after genetic testing and over time risk perception decreased. Overall, predispositional genetic testing has no significant impact on psychological outcomes, little effect on behavior, and did not change perceived risk. It seems as though better patient education strategies are required. Our data would suggest better knowledge among carriers would not have significant psychological impacts and therefore, it is worth pursuing improved educational strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Counseling / psychology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease* / psychology
  • Genetic Testing* / psychology
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment