Frequently Asked Questions:
What is genetic counseling and how can it help me?
Genetic counselors are Master’s-level health professionals trained in cancer risk assessment and genetic testing. They see patients and family members, and work closely with them to determine the need and types of testing to be done and how to interpret the results. Cancer genetic counseling includes the following services:
- Reviewing personal medical and family history, specifically focusing on cases of cancer and other diseases
- Discussing any specific genetic concerns you may have
- Education about genetics, DNA, inherited genes and risk factors
- Assessing your risk for developing certain cancers and determining which test(s) would be best for your needs
- Explaining the benefits, limitations and risks of relevant genetic testing, as well as the medical and psychosocial implications of testing
- Going over the requirements of each test and coordinating necessary blood work
- Providing follow-up counseling to review results, their implications and how to utilize results in medical decision-making
- Referring to a specialist or sharing results with primary care providers if needed for continued surveillance, risk management and follow-up
Would genetic testing be useful for me?
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, genetic counseling may be helpful for you:
- Have you or a close family relative been diagnosed with cancer at a young age (before age 50)?
- Do you have more than one family member with the same type of cancer? If so, is this type of cancer seen in more than one generation?
- Do you have a family member who has had more than one type of cancer (tumors in different areas of the body)?
- Has anyone in your family had bilateral cancer (occurring in both sides of a part of the body) or a rare form of cancer?
- Has anyone in your family been diagnosed as having an inherited mutation that can cause cancer?
- Do you believe you could be at-risk for cancer due to other risk factors?
What are some other common genetic tests?
There are about 20,000 genes in every cell of the body. Genetic testing can involve checking one gene or a number of different genes. Your genetic counselor can work with you in determining which genes to test based on your personal and family history. Some common genetic tests include:
- BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that can mutate and raise the risk for certain cancers, especially breast cancer (in men and women) and ovarian cancer in women. BRCA genes are the most common cause of gene-related breast and ovarian cancers. If the test shows that a person has the gene mutations, steps can be taken to protect the health of the patient, including increased surveillance and even surgery.
- Li-Fraumeni Syndrome is caused by mutations in a gene known as TP53 and is shown to increase risk of developing different types of cancer, especially breast cancer, brain tumors and leukemia.
- Cowden Syndrome is a rare inherited disorder that increases the risk of breast cancer, endometrial (uterine) cancer, gastrointestinal cancers and thyroid cancers. It is caused by mutations in a gene known as PTEN.
Will insurance cover genetic counseling and testing?
Many insurance companies can cover all or part of the costs for genetic testing and counseling. We recommend patients check with their providers before having any tests completed.
What do the results mean and what happens next?
The results of your genetic testing will be mailed to you and your genetic counselor will walk you through the meaning of your results at your next appointment. You will either be positive or negative for the gene(s) for which you were tested. After interpreting and explaining your results, the genetic counselor will discuss potential appropriate plans of action.
If mutation(s) were found, you may be at an increased risk for certain types of cancers depending on the gene involved. In this case, the counselor will talk with you about increased surveillance, chemoprevention or possibly preventive surgery. The counselor will also refer you to a specialist and/or share the results with your primary care provider if necessary.