Questions and Answers About Genetic Cancer Counseling

What is genetic counseling?

Genetic counseling is a process to identify patients and families that may have a genetic predisposition to a particular genetic condition and to assist people with the medical, psychological, and familial implications of genetic conditions.

Who are genetic counselors?

Genetic counselors are medical professionals with specialized training in medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counselors assist patients and their families in understanding the genetic factors of diseases.

The American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) is the organization that credentials genetic counseling professionals in the United States and Canada. Genetic counselors are certified by ABGC are referred to as a Certified Genetic Counselor (CGC).

What does a genetic counselor do?
  • A genetic counselor will review your personal medical history and family history with you.
  • The genetic counselor will assist in identifying if there is a risk of a genetic predisposition in your family.
  • The genetic counselor will discuss potential options for genetic testing with you, if this is appropriate.
  • The genetic counselor will explain how genetic conditions are passed on in families. She will also give you information about genetic conditions and assist with referrals to medical specialists, support networks, and other resources.
What happens at a cancer genetic counseling appointment?

When you are scheduled for a genetic counseling visit, you will be mailed a questionnaire about your personal medical history and your family history. You are asked to complete this information and either mail the questionnaire back or bring it with you to your appointment.

At your appointment, you will meet with the genetic counselor. The initial genetic counseling appointment can last from 30 to 90 minutes.

The genetic counselor will review your medical history and your family history with you.

You will learn about the causes of genetic conditions. The counselor will evaluate your personal and family history to see if there may be a genetic reason for your personal and/or family history of cancer.

If appropriate, the genetic counselor will discuss potential options for genetic testing. She will guide you through decision making about genetic testing.

Information about the cost of genetic testing and insurance coverage will be discussed, as well as information about current genetic legislation.

Some individuals choose to go home and think about the option of genetic testing and discuss this with their family. You do not have to make a decision about whether or not to have genetic testing at the time of your visit. These individuals are encouraged to contact the genetic counselor if they decide to pursue genetic testing and then this can be arranged.

If genetic testing is appropriate and you would like to proceed with testing, then testing may begin the day of your visit. Depending on the test, you may have blood drawn or provide a mouthwash or saliva sample.

The genetic counselor will contact you with your genetic testing results when they are available. Usually, most genetic testing results take a few weeks. However, the length of time may vary depending on the specific genetic test and the genetic counselor will discuss this with you. You will be mailed a copy of your results for your records. When you are given your results, the genetic counselor will discuss the meaning of these results for you and your family and review medical management options. Often patients are referred to other medical professionals.

Who may benefit from cancer genetic counseling?

This list of individuals who may benefit from genetic counseling highlights some of the personal and family histories of cancer that may prompt a referral for genetic counseling. Please discuss your personal and family history with your medical provider(s) to see if cancer genetic counseling is recommended for you.

  • An individual who has had cancer at a young age - an individual diagnosed with breast cancer or colon cancer under the age of 50
  • An individual who has had two or more separate primary cancers - a woman diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer
  • An individual from a family where several closely related family members have had the same or related types of cancer - a woman with uterine cancer who has a parent with colon cancer
  • An individual who has a rare cancer or an unusual type of cancer -a man with breast cancer
  • An individual who has findings that may be associated with an inherited cancer syndrome – a person who has twenty or more colon polyps