Genetic counseling is a process where a trained genetic counselor helps a person or family at risk for a disease with a genetic cause, such as cancer, understand the medical facts and available screening, prevention, and treatment options. The genetic counselor asks about your medical history and your family's medical history and provides you with information about your cancer risk based on this information. In addition, the genetics counselor can review your options for genetic testing and cancer screening.
A genetic counselor is a health professional with specialized training in medical genetics and counseling. Most genetic counselors have a Master's degree in genetic counseling, although others have degrees in related fields, such as nursing or social work. Genetic counselors are certified through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Like other health professionals, genetic counselors must participate in continuing education to maintain their certification.
Genetic counselors are trained to evaluate the likelihood of a hereditary cancer risk in your family and give you and your family information about genetic testing and other cancer screening options. They will help you come to a decision about genetic testing and serve as a resource for you and your family in the future. Genetic counselors may advise you about the following:
The more information you have about the cancer history in your family, the more you will benefit from your genetic counseling visit. Information that is helpful and may be requested by the counseling center includes:
Consider taking a companion with you to your appointment. This may or may not be a family member, depending on your preference. A large amount of information will be covered, and it is always a good idea to have another person there to hear the information and think of questions. If you choose to bring a family member, he/she may also be able to provide additional information about your family history. You can expect the following topics to be covered:
Your genetic counselor will write a summary of your visit. Typically, a copy of this summary will go to you and the doctor who referred you to the genetic counselor. Your genetic counselor may provide you with additional written information relevant to your family history. In some cases, you or other family members may qualify for research or screening studies, and your genetic counselor can provide you with that information and help make the necessary arrangements.
If you decide to pursue genetic testing, your genetic counselor will work with the testing laboratory to determine if test costs are covered by your insurance. Your counselor can help coordinate testing and review your test results with you when they are available. Your counselor will continue to be a resource for you and your family after your visit. It is important to call your counselor if you have any questions or if there are changes to the cancer history in your family.
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