In a comparative study on the effects of predictive DNA testing for late onset disorders, pre-test psychological distress was assessed in people at risk for Huntington's disease (HD, n = 41), cerebral haemorrhage (HCHWA-D, n = 9), breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC, n = 24), and polyposis coli (FAP, n = 45). Partners, if available, also participated in the study. Distress was measured with the subscales Intrusion and Avoidance of the Impact of Event Scale. People at risk for the neurodegenerative disorders reported more avoidance than those at risk for the cancer syndromes. People at risk for FAP and partners of those at risk for HBOC reported less intrusion than the others at risk and the other partners. Subjects who were more distressed reported more experiences with the disease in close relatives, the disease having a great impact on their lives, having considerations against predictive testing, expecting that being identified as a gene carrier would have adverse effects, and expecting relief after being identified as a non-carrier. Test candidates who expected an increase of personal problems showed higher avoidance, whereas those who could better anticipate future life as a carrier had higher intrusion levels. Generally, subjects with high distress levels are of more concern to the healthcare professional than those with low distress levels. However, high distress may reflect worrying as a mental preparation for the test result, whereas low distress may indicate denial-avoidance behaviour and poor anticipation of the test outcome. In pre-test counselling sessions, this should be acknowledged and addressed.
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