A genetic consultation is often recommended for people who are concerned about their risk for cancer due to a personal or family history of cancer. Some individuals who do not have an extensive family or personal history may still be at increased risk, and would benefit from a genetic consultation.
Genetic counselors are specially trained medical providers who are experts in hereditary diseases, including the evaluation for and the communication about these conditions. They have a Master’s degree and maintain a national certification, much like other health professionals, such as physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners.
Genetic counselors are a vital member of an oncology practice. The importance of identifying hereditary risk in cancer patients is two-fold; first, it can help guide medical management, such as guiding which medicine or chemotherapy may be more effective, and second, it helps refine future cancer risk. By identifying if a patient has higher risks to develop other cancers, then his or her providers can be proactive - providing additional screenings for early detection or interventions (i.e. medications or surgeries) to reduce risks for certain cancers. This information can also be far-reaching, as these genetic changes may also be present in other members of a patient’s family. We are very fortunate at Roswell Park, as our Clinical Genetics Service has genetic counselors who specialize only in assessing hereditary cancer risk. As genetic testing has become more and more complex, there is an increasing need for patients to receive expert care throughout their journey.
Genetic counselors have the ability to spend a lot of time with their patients – a typical consultation is 90 minutes, during which a genetic counselor reviews a patient’s medical history, draws out a family tree (genetic pedigree), and interprets this information to assess the risk for a hereditary cancer syndrome. Additionally, there is a great amount of time dedicated to educating the patient and helping them identify what testing option is the best for them and their family – genetic testing is not one size fits all, and bigger is not always better. It is not practical for many provides to spend this much time only discussing genetic testing – which is a unique benefit of meeting with a genetic counselor.
While genetic counselors have extensive medical knowledge, they also have specialized training to provide support for patient’s throughout the process of genetic testing. Feelings of anxiety and guilt are common, and genetic counselors explore each patient’s unique situation to determine what testing is appropriate and when is the right time to pursue testing. Once a patient receives their result, genetic counselors provide guidance on communicating this information to their families. Furthermore, genetic counselors can address patents concerns about the cost of testing, insurance issues and genetic discrimination.
If you have questions about your personal or family history of cancer or if you’ve already had genetic testing and want to discuss what the results mean for you and your family, meeting with a genetic counselor may help. If you have questions or wish to have a consultation at Roswell Park, you can call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email AskRoswell@roswellpark.org.