January 18th, 2017

When patients are referred to a genetic counselor, one of the most common questions we get is “what should I expect?” There are many reasons why a patient may be referred to a genetic counselor, such as a personal or family history of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or birth defects, but consults will often include the following elements. First off, though, what exactly is a genetic counselor?

genetic counselor is a specialized healthcare professional that assists patients through the genetic testing process. Genetic counselors teach patients about genetic conditions, guide them through genetic testing options, order the appropriate genetic test, interpret the result, and make management recommendations based on the result.

During the session, the genetic counselor will review your medical history in detail and will typically draw a diagram of your family (called a “pedigree”) and the various health conditions affecting your relatives. The genetic counselor will use these tools to teach you about the genetic condition(s) in your family. This typically includes a background discussion of DNA, genes, and abnormal genetic changes (called “mutations”). They will use this information to calculate the chance that you or other family members will be affected with the condition(s). They will review the features of the condition, associated risks, and treatment options with you.  If you are a good candidate for genetic testing to confirm if you have the condition, they will discuss your genetic testing options, including benefits, limitations, insurance coverage, anticipated cost, and how the results will impact you and your family. They will also interpret the genetic test results for you and your physicians, making medical management recommendations based on the result. Though these conversations can be quite detailed, genetic counselors often use visual aids, analogies, and descriptions to make sure to understand all information discussed. Genetic consultations often are 30-60 minutes, which leaves plenty of time to answer all of your questions.

Think of your genetic counselor as your advocate, helping you to make an informed decision about your risk for disease and in managing your health.

About the author:

Anna Victorine, MS, CGC is a board-certified genetic counselor at Provenance Healthcare. She currently specializes in cancer genetics and personalized medicine. Appointments with Anna can be made by calling 702-478-2524.