Genetic counselors are health care professionals with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and psychosocial counseling. They work as members of the health management team, helping people and families understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. This includes providing information and support to individuals and couples that have a family history of a genetic disorder or are at risk for having a child with an inherited condition.
Genetic Counselors are an integral part of clinical care in many areas of medicine, including:
- Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) & Infertility Genetics
- Cancer Genetics
- Cardiovascular Genetics
- Cystic Fibrosis Genetics
- Fetal Intervention and Therapy Genetics
- Hematology Genetics
- Metabolic Genetics
- Pediatric Genetics
- Personalized Medicine Genetics
- Prenatal Genetics
- Psychatric Genetics
If you meet with a genetic counselor, they may:
- Review your personal and family medical history
- Identify possible genetic risks and discuss inheritance patterns
- Review appropriate testing options
- Discuss prevention strategies, screening tools, disease management
- Provide genetics-related information and reliable resources
- Provide supportive counseling that may help you with topics that arose during the consultation
If genetic testing is appropriate and you decide to proceed, your genetic counselor will:
- Coordinate sample collection for genetic testing
- Interpret your genetic test results
- Discuss your risk-reduction and/or management options
- Assist you in the decision-making process regarding your management plan
- Refer you to appropriate providers
In the cancer care setting, genetic counselors and physicians work together and assess family history, other cancer risk factors, and genetic testing results to provide you with an individualized risk management program, which includes recommendations for cancer screening and options for preventive measures.
Genetic counselors also review reproductive risks associated with genetic conditions and can discuss the option of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Patient's with a hereditary syndrome, may be able to use PGD in conjunction with in vitro fertilization (IVF). PGD is a test which screens embryos for a specific familial mutation to avoid passing it on to future children.
About 5-10% of all cancers are inherited.This means that mutations, or changes, in specific genes are passed from one blood relative to another. Individuals who inherit one of these abnormal genes have a much greater chance of developing cancer within their lifetime and at an earlier age.
Cancer genetic counseling can help an individual determine whether or not they have inherited an increased risk for cancer. People who see a genetic counselor include, but are not limited to, individuals with a personal or family history of:
- Cancer, such as breast or colon cancer, under the age of 50
- Two or more first-degree relatives on the same side of their family who have been diagnosed with cancer
- More than one primary cancer in the same individual (such as two primary breast cancers, or primary colon cancer and primary stomach cancer)
- More than one type of cancer in the same individual
- A rare type of cancer or tumor pathology
- A known genetic mutation in a cancer susceptibility gene in their family (e.g. BRCA1, BRCA2, p53, PTEN)
- An ethnicity associated with a higher frequency of hereditary cancer syndromes (e.g. Ashkenazi or Eastern European Jewish descent)
Individuals with a family history of these types of cancer should speak with their doctors about whether or not genetic counseling and genetic testing may be appropriate.
The National Society of Genetic Counselors created a Find a Genetic Counselor directory to assist patients and health care providers find a genetic counselor nearby.
- Most counselors will perform a brief intake to determine whether or not an appointment for a genetic consultation would be of benefit to you. Longer consultations by phone are usually not possible.
- A scheduled appointment would be necessary to discuss your concerns.
- Each center varies with regard to referral requirements, payment methods, and services.