A person’s family history may help in identifying risk for developing cancer. Norton Cancer Institute offers genetic testing and genetic counseling so that individuals with a family history of cancer can gain a better understanding of their risks and how they affect family members.
What is genetic counseling?
Genetic counseling for families with a possible hereditary cancer syndrome focuses on providing information to help make more informed health-related decisions, address family dynamics and discuss genetic testing with members of the family who also could be at risk. It is important to remember that while most medical tests are used to gain information about a specific person, genetic testing is one of the few medical tests that can affect entire families.
The genetic counseling process usually involves three steps, including:
- A cost-free phone consultation in which a genetic counselor asks questions about family history and provides basic information about genetic counseling and testing. If an appointment is needed with Norton Cancer Institute’s Genetic Counseling Services, it can be scheduled during this phone call.
- During the initial appointment, more detailed information is discussed regarding family history, hereditary cancer, screening and prevention guidelines, and genetic testing. Prior to this appointment, the physician and counselor carefully evaluate each patient’s family history and conduct a personal hereditary cancer risk assessment.
- A results appointment is scheduled to receive test results and discuss recommendations for screening and prevention.
Though a genetic test will not tell you with certainty whether you will develop cancer, it can help you define your risk of developing certain types of cancer in your lifetime. A genetic test requires you to give a sample of your blood, and the results of your genetic testing and what they mean for you and your family members will be discussed at a future in-office meeting. If needed, the physician and genetic counselor will explain treatment, prevention and additional screening options with you. In addition, the genetic counselor will help you find ways to share your test results with family members who may benefit from knowing this information in order to reduce their cancer risk.
Genetic testing is not for everyone, and each individual must consider the risks and benefits associated with testing, as well as his or her own personal situation when making a decision. While it is important that you discuss genetic testing with other family members, the choice to test is yours alone. Different members of the family may make different decisions about testing. In any case, it is important to talk to a genetic counselor so that you can be empowered with the correct information to make an informed decision. Speaking with a genetic counselor does not mean that you consent to genetic testing.
Benefits of genetic testing include:
- Finding out why cancer is occurring can help resolve uncertainty for you and your family.
- Knowing whether your diagnosed cancer is hereditary can help you and your doctors decide which treatment options are the most appropriate.
- Knowing whether the cancer in your family is hereditary can help you and your doctors take steps to prevent the development of certain cancers in the future.
- Knowing whether you are at increased risk for cancer enables you to have more frequent cancer screenings so that if cancer is ever detected, it can be treated early.
- Genetic testing provides support for insurance coverage of more frequent screenings and preventive measures.
- Genetic testing identifies family members who are not at an increased risk for developing cancer.
Risks of genetic testing include:
- The cost of testing is often, but not always, covered by insurance. The cost is determined by your individual insurance policy and your medical history. You can choose to be informed of the amount you will pay before agreeing to have the test performed.
- The possibility exists of genetic discrimination by an insurance company or employer. Currently, there are federal and state laws designed to protect consumers from such discrimination. More information concerning these laws can be found on the National Society of Genetic Counselors website.
- Emotional distress associated with test results may occur.
- Your results may give other family members information about their health status even if they do not wish to know.
To make an appointment with a genetic counselor or for more information on this service, call (502) 629-GENE (4363).