Emotional distress following genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer: a meta-analytic review

Health Psychol. 2009 Jul;28(4):510-8. doi: 10.1037/a0014778.


Objective: Meta-analysis was used to synthesize results of studies on emotional consequences of predictive genetic testing for BRCA1/2 mutations conferring increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Design: Studies assessing anxiety or cancer-specific distress before and after provision of test results (k = 20) were analyzed using a random-effects model. Moderator variables included country of data collection and personal cancer history of study participants.

Main outcome measures: Standardized mean gain effect sizes were calculated for mutation carriers, noncarriers, and those with inconclusive results over short (0-4 weeks), moderate (5-24 weeks), or long (25-52 weeks) periods of time after testing.

Results: Distress among carriers increased shortly after receiving results and returned to pretesting levels over time. Distress among noncarriers and those with inconclusive results decreased over time. Some distress patterns differed in studies conducted outside the United States and for individuals with varying cancer histories.

Conclusion: Results underscore the importance of time; changes in distress observed shortly after test-result disclosure frequently differed from the pattern of distress seen subsequently. Although emotional consequences of this testing appear minimal, it remains possible that testing may affect cognitive and behavioral outcomes, which have rarely been examined through meta-analysis. Testing may also affect understudied subgroups differently.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • BRCA2 Protein / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • DNA Mutational Analysis
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Genetic Carrier Screening
  • Genetic Testing / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / genetics*


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • BLID protein, human
  • BRCA2 Protein
  • BRCA2 protein, human
  • BRAP protein, human
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases