Cancer genetic counseling involves having a certified genetic counselor help you and your family understand your inherited cancer risk. About 5-10% of cancers are caused by a mutation (alteration) in a gene. These gene mutations can be passed down from a mother or father to their children. A genetic counselor explains the benefits and limitation of genetic testing. He or she can also offer information about cancer screening and risk- reduction options and provide support.
Preparing for an appointment with a genetic counselor
You can get more out of your genetic counseling appointment if you have more information about your family’s cancer history. Helpful information that may be requested by the genetic counselor includes:
- Your medical records. This includes doctor notes and pathology reports. Pathology reports are your laboratory test results from any biopsies, surgeries, or screening examinations, such as colonoscopies.
- A list of family members that includes each person’s current age or age at the time of death and cause of death. This list should include parents, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, and cousins on both sides of your family.
- Information on specific types of cancer that have been diagnosed in the family. This includes the age at which family members were diagnosed with cancer and where in the body the cancer started. Pathology reports are often helpful.
When going to the appointment, consider taking someone with you. This could be a family member or friend, depending on your preference. The genetic counselor will discuss a lot of information. Another person can help you listen and think of questions. If you choose to bring a family member, that person may also be able to provide information about your family history.
What to expect during the appointment
The following topics will be covered during your appointment with a genetic counselor:
- Discussion regarding insurance coverage and cost of testing
- Your personal medical history and cancer screening history.
- Your family history: The counselor will document your family tree and include at least 3 generations. The family tree will include information such as which family members have had cancer, what type of cancer they had, and their age at diagnosis.
- The possibility of an inherited cancer risk. Depending on your family history, your counselor may be able to use computerized risk assessment tools to help estimate your risk.
- Cancer screening and risk reduction options
- The benefits and limitations of genetic testing for you and your family.
- A strategy for genetic testing that best meets your needs.
- Current laws regarding the privacy of genetic information.
- Take a DNA sample for genetic testing and send it to the lab
What is genetic testing?
Genetic testing is a laboratory test which looks for mutations (alterations) in genes which have been linked with an increased risk for cancer and is performed on a blood or saliva sample. Results typically take 2-3 weeks, but can be completed in 10-14 days for those patients needing results for treatment decisions.
Insurance companies provide coverage for genetic testing for patients who have a certain personal and/or family history of cancer. If you do not meet your insurance company’s criteria for testing, the self- pay rate for genetic testing is about $250. Several labs also have financial assistance programs for those with limited coverage or who do not have insurance.
Cancer Genetic Counseling Services through Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Hereditary Oncology Prevention and Evaluation (HOPE) Program at the LIFE Center
Appointments available at: Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, The Steeplechase Cancer Center in Somerville, The Cancer Center at RWJ University Hospital Hamilton, University Medical Center at Princeton Breast Health Center