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This article presents an overview of the rapidly evolving body of literature on the psychological impact of genetic testing for hereditary breast/ovarian cancer susceptibility, hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). Uptake of genetic testing for BRCA1/2 and HNPCC-related mutations is more consistently related to psychological factors, rather than sociodemographic variables. Most studies on the psychological impact of genetic testing amongst individuals who have never been affected by cancer demonstrate that non-carriers derive significant psychological benefits from genetic testing, while no adverse effects have been observed amongst carriers. These benefits are more clear-cut for HNPCC, compared to hereditary breast/ovarian cancer, reflecting differences in risk management options. The few studies available on individuals affected with cancer indicate that the impact of genetic testing is mediated and amplified by their former experience of cancer. Future directions and challenges of research in this area are reviewed. In particular, more empirical data are needed on the broader impact of genetic testing on those with inconclusive results or results of uncertain significance. As genetic testing is becoming available for other types of familial cancer, additional investigations will be needed as there is evidence to suggest that the impact of genetic testing may be unique to each type of familial cancer. Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.