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Genetic Counseling – Getting the Information You Need

Qualifications of Cancer Genetic Counselors

Medical geneticists and genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized training and experience in human and medical genetics and counseling who can give information and supportive counseling concerning many disorders or abnormalities. Cancer genetic counselors and cancer geneticists specialize in counseling families about inherited forms of cancer. Genetic specialists should have certification from the American Board of Genetic Counseling or the American Board of Medical Genetics.

Cancer Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling is available to individuals and families with a medical history or increased personal risk for a wide range of genetic conditions. Genetic counseling provides patient with:

  • Information
  • Education
  • Support

Genetic counselors and geneticists provide information about certain genetic conditions including:

  • Causes
  • Inheritance patterns
  • Implications

What to Expect in a Genetic Counseling Session

During a typical genetic counseling session for cancer susceptibility, the genetic professional will take a very detailed cancer family history by asking questions such as:

  • Who in the family has had cancer?
  • What type of cancer it was?
  • How old was the individual when he or she was diagnosed?

Genetics counselors also:

  • Take a medical history to determine an individual’s personal risk factors for cancer
  • Develop a risk assessment based on the family tree
  • Discuss options for increased screening and ways to reduce cancer risk
  • Discuss the benefits and limitations of genetic testing including:

    • Medical implications
    • Legal implications
    • Psychosocial implications

Genetic counselors can also help families work through decisions about whether to have testing and can explore the issues that surround genetic testing and offer support throughout the testing process. Some examples of the services offered by genetic counselors include:

  • Education about causes and risk factors associated with a number of birth defects and hereditary conditions
  • Discussion of available tests that may provide information about the potential to develop hereditary conditions, or the chance of having children with genetic or hereditary disorders.
  • Educate individuals to understand the implications of hereditary conditions for themselves and their families.
  • Discussion of options for early detection, risk reduction and predictive testing

Who should consider cancer genetic counseling and/or testing?

  • Any person who has a strong family history of cancer (see¬†criteria below).
  • Anyone who has developed cancer at an unusually young age (younger than 50)
  • Anyone with more than one primary cancer
  • Anyone who is concerned about their risk for developing cancer based on their family history


More information about Cancer Genetics:

For more information:

Go to the Cancer Genetics health topic.