Stress and genetic testing for disease risk

Health Psychol. 1997 Jan;16(1):8-19. doi: 10.1037//0278-6133.16.1.8.


Healthy people who believe they are at risk for a life-threatening disease appear to carry a substantial stress burden because of threat of disease and uncertainty of risk. Testing for risk factors may be helpful by reducing this uncertainty, but diseases with multiple causes, like breast cancer, appear to be determined by genetic factors and by age, reproductive behavior, exposure to environmental toxins, or unknown antecedents. For diseases caused by inherited genetic defects, testing brings different benefits and stressors. A model is proposed that predicts long-term distress when risk analysis suggests a very high risk, when uncertainty is not reduced, when results of testing are at odds with preventive actions already taken, and when people who receive a positive, risk-increasing result lack strong social support, coping skills, other psychosocial resources, or all of these.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Causality
  • Disease Susceptibility / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Genetic Testing / adverse effects*
  • Genetic Testing / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / genetics
  • Huntington Disease / psychology
  • Male
  • Medical Futility
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*