Specific psychosocial issues of individuals undergoing genetic counseling for cancer - a literature review

J Genet Couns. 2014 Apr;23(2):133-46. doi: 10.1007/s10897-013-9649-4. Epub 2013 Aug 31.


Approximately 25% of individuals undergoing genetic counseling for cancer experiences clinically relevant levels of distress, anxiety and/or depression. However, these general psychological outcomes that are used in many studies do not provide detailed information on the specific psychosocial problems experienced by counselees. The aim of this review was to investigate the specific psychosocial issues encountered by individuals undergoing genetic counseling for cancer, and to identify overarching themes across these issues. A literature search was performed, using four electronic databases (PubMed, PsychInfo, CINAHL and Embase). Papers published between January 2000 and January 2013 were selected using combinations, and related indexing terms of the keywords: 'genetic counseling', 'psychology' and 'cancer'. In total, 25 articles met our inclusion criteria. We identified the specific issues addressed by these papers, and used meta-ethnography to identify the following six overarching themes: coping with cancer risk, practical issues, family issues, children-related issues, living with cancer, and emotions. A large overlap in the specific issues and themes was found between these studies, suggesting that research on specific psychosocial problems within genetic counseling has reached a point of saturation. As a next step, efforts should be made to detect and monitor these problems of counselees at an early stage within the genetic counseling process.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Genetic Counseling*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / psychology*