The decision whether to undergo genetic counseling for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer is complex. Knowledge about the psychosocial conditions of women who are awaiting counseling is sparse. We aimed to compare the psychosocial conditions of women awaiting genetic counseling with those of women in two reference groups. We included 567 women referred to genetic counseling for hereditary risk of breast or ovarian cancer (Genetic Group), 689 women referred to mammography (Mammography Group) and a random sample of 2,000 women from the general population (Population Group). One to 4 weeks before the first counseling session or mammography, data were collected by questionnaires. Both women affected with cancer and unaffected women in the Genetic Group appeared to have a somewhat higher prevalence of cancer-specific-distress than the corresponding reference groups. Further research on the effect of pre- counseling interventions appear warranted in addition with exploring a potential association between waiting time and cancer-specific distress.