Reasons to see a genetic counselor include personal or family history of:
- Breast cancer(s) diagnosed before age 50
- Ovarian cancer (any age)
- Male breast cancer
- Breast and/or ovarian cancer at any age and Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
- Three or more breast cancers (same side of family)
- Colon cancer diagnosed under the age of 50
- Two or more colon and/or endometrial cancers occurring (same side of family)
- Family history of melanoma or pancreatic cancer (>1 person)
- Total of 10 or more adenomatous polyps of the colon
- Personal history of multiple primary cancers
- Certain rare cancers or tumors (e.g. medullary thyroid cancer, retinoblastoma, hepatoblastoma, adrenocortical carcinoma, pheochromocytoma)
What is a genetic counselor?
A genetic counselor is a health professional with a specialized degree in both medical genetics and counseling. The purpose of a genetic counselor is to help you understand complex genetic information, help you make informed decisions and facilitate genetic testing.
What is genetic testing?
Genetic testing is typically performed on saliva or blood. Genetic tests are performed at specialized laboratories that look for changes or mutations in our genes. All the genes in our bodies have a specific function. The function of many genes related to hereditary cancer is to repair cell damage. When one copy of the gene has a mutation, it causes it to not work properly, which increases the lifetime risk for certain types of cancer. Therefore, genetic testing can be performed to help detect any changes or mutations in specific genes related to hereditary cancers to help assess a person’s risk to develop cancer or a second cancer.
What to expect at your appointment?
A typical session with a genetic counselor consists of gathering personal medical information and family history. A family tree will be constructed with relevant information including cancer types and ages of onset.
A genetic counselor will discuss your risk for cancer (or second primary cancer) based on the information given and whether genetic testing is right for you. Additionally, appropriate screening, surgery, medications and lifestyle changes may be discussed to help reduce your cancer risk.
How to prepare?
Gather information about your family history. It may be helpful to talk to other family members who know more details. We understand that it may be challenging to get more information about certain family members, therefore whatever information you bring is helpful.
Useful family history information includes:
- Type of cancer
- Age of cancer diagnosis (if specific age is unknown, the approximate decade, i.e. 40s, 50s, etc., is still very helpful).
- Age of death (if no longer living)
- If any genetic testing has been performed on individuals in the family (and a copy of their test results if possible)
It is also helpful to come prepared with your personal medical history. Information about past and current medical conditions, surgeries, biopsies and screening (i.e. colonoscopies, mammogram, dermatologic) are an important part of this evaluation.