Psychological opportunities and hazards in predictive genetic testing for cancer risk

Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 1997 Mar;26(1):19-39. doi: 10.1016/s0889-8553(05)70281-8.


Although the availability of genetic tests seems like an unequivocally favorable turn of events, they are, in fact, not without controversy. At the center of the controversy is a question regarding the risks and benefits of genetic testing. Many geneticists, ethicists, psychologists, and persons at risk for cancer are concerned about the potentially adverse psychological effects of genetic testing on tested persons and their families. In addition, the screening and interventions that are useful in the general population remain to be shown effective in those with high genetic cancer risk. Consequently, there have been calls for caution in moving genetic testing out of research laboratories and into commercial laboratories until their impact and the effectiveness of cancer prevention strategies can be studied. This article examines the arguments and data for and against this caution, citing examples related to hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer and drawing upon literature on testing for other genetic diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colonic Neoplasms / psychology
  • Disclosure
  • Female
  • Genetic Privacy*
  • Genetic Research
  • Genetic Testing / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / genetics
  • Huntington Disease / psychology
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / psychology
  • Risk
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Uncertainty