Genetic Counseling and Testing

About 5 to 10 percent of all cancers are hereditaryCaused by an inherited gene that is not working correctly , meaning they are caused by an inheritedGot from your parents gene that is not working correctly. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of cancers are due to a combination of geneticsRelated to your genes and environment; 60 percent of cancers are thought to be random.

When a patient inherits a broken gene (or several) from a parent, he or she might have a higher risk for developing certain cancers. Genetic counseling helps individuals and families understand their risks for having a broken gene, and what they can do reduce their chances of developing cancer. Genetic counselors can also help coordinate genetic testing, which is a blood or saliva test, to check for broken genes.

Understanding your risk to develop cancer could impact treatment decisions for individuals who already have cancer, determine which screening testsTests which scan the body for any signs of cancer should be recommended to catch cancer early, and can help determine if other relatives are at an increased risk of developing cancer.

Read more about the Basics of Genetics.


Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling at Parkland helps patients and families determine if they are at an increased risk of cancer. Our board-certified genetic counselors are trained to identify high-risk families and help them understand their risk of developing cancer as well as their options for prevention, early detectionFinding a cancerous tumor in its early stages of growth, and treatment.

Genetic counseling is important because if a patient is found to have an increased risk of cancer, he or she might choose to undergoParticipate in additional screening or take preventive measuresActions to prevent cancer from developing or growing to detect cancer early when it is treatable or reduce the risk of developing the disease. Also, when patients discover they or their family members do not have an increased risk of cancer, it can relieve anxiety and avoid unnecessary monitoringScreenings and appointments to check for any changes to your cancer growth.

What to expect/what will be discussed

  • Medical family history review
  • Genetic testing discussion
  • Cancer screening and prevention recommendations
  • Financial counseling
  • Risk for family members

After the appointment, we will complete a cancer risk analysis. Our genetic counselors will discuss the advantages and limitations of genetic testing with each patient. If appropriate, genetic testing may be recommended. You and your medical team will be informed of the outcome of the conversation to ensure you are receiving appropriate medical care.

Genetic Testing

Genetic testing looks for changes in genetic material, or genes, that are related to cancer risk. The process involves reading a gene to identify any changes, or mutationsChanges in genes, associated with an increased risk for cancer. However, genetic testing will not tell a person if he or she currently has cancer, and a mutation does not mean someone will develop cancer in the future.

You may discuss genetic testing options with your genetic counselor, and if recommended, undergo genetic testing. Genetic testing is usually done with a blood or saliva sample. Genetic testing results are usually received within 2-3 weeks and will indicate either positive, negative, or uncertain results. Your genetic counselor will help you understand the results and create a plan moving forward.

Possible risk factors in your family history to look for

Looking at your family history can help in identifying risk factors, or red flags, to see if you might be at increased risk for hereditary cancer. If you think you may be at risk of hereditary cancer, please ask your provider for a referral to speak with a genetic counselor who will help you analyze your risk factors. Some risk factors include:

  • Cancer at a young age of diagnosisWhen your cancer is first found
    • Cancer that was diagnosed at an unusually young age (younger than age 50)
  • Multiple types of cancer in one individual
    • Cancer that has developed in both organs in a set of paired organs (such as both breasts or both kidneys)
    • Multiple, different types of cancer that have occurred independentlySeparate from each other in the same person (not one cancer that spreads to different organs)
  • RareNot occurring very often forms of cancer
    • Rare cancers such as male breast cancer or paragangliomas
  • A family history of similar cancers
    • Multiple close blood relatives on the same side of the family that have the same type of cancer or associated cancers (for example, a mother, daughter, and sisters with breast cancer)
    • Racial or ethnic heritage in a group that is known to have an increased chance of having a certain hereditary cancer syndrome and having one or more of the above features as well (for example, having breast cancer and being of Ashkenazi Jewish descent)
    • Multiple generations affected with cancer exhibiting an autosomal dominant inheritance patternPattern associated with some types of inherited cancers
    • The presence of birth defects or other noncancerous findings, such as certain benignNon-cancerous skin growths or skeletal abnormalitiesUnusual defects in the legs or arms, that are known to be associated with inherited cancer syndromes

Take the Genetics & Hereditary Cancers Risk Quiz

Meet the Team

  • Amanda de Leon, MS, CGC
  • Remington Fenter, MS, CGC
  • Amber Gemmell, MS, CGC
  • Sayoni Lahiri, MS, CGC
  • Caitlin Mauer, MA, MS, CGC
  • Jacqueline Mersch, MS, CGC
  • Kelsey Moriarty, MS, CGC
  • Chandler Myers, MS, CGC
  • Sara Pirzadeh-Miller, MS, CGC
  • Parker Read, MS, CGC
  • Brian Reys, MS, CGC
  • Elise Watson, MS, CGC
  • John Zimmerman, MS, CGC
  • Cheyla Clark, MPH, MS, CGC
  • Misha Asif, MS
  • Mary Grace Roden, MS, CGC

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I get a referral to genetic counseling?
Ask your provider if you would like to be referred to genetic counseling and testing.
How is a genetic counseling appointment conducted?
Genetic counseling visits are offered both in-person or by telephone. You can either come in for a blood draw or have a saliva collection kit mailed to your home.
Will my genetic information be protected?
Yes. A federal law called GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) prohibitsDoes not allow the use of genetic test result information as a pre-existing condition for the purposes of major medical coverage or of hiring or firing practices. The law includes a few exclusionsexceptions for small-group coverage and members of the military. Read more information about the GINA law.
What is the cost of genetic testing?
If you have limited or no insurance, the cost of genetic testing might be covered by grant funding or financial assistance programs. The genetic counselor will walk you through your options during your visit.
If I attend a genetic counseling visit, does that mean I have to have genetic testing?
No. In a genetic counseling visit, you will discuss the potential advantages of genetic testing, but whether you receive a genetic test is your personal decision.
How to prepare for my genetic counseling visit?
Prior to a genetic counseling appointment, it is important for patients to gather as much information about their own medical history as possible.

Patients should discuss their family history with their relatives to find out who in the family had cancer, what type of cancer they had, how old they were at diagnosis, and any specific treatments they had. If other relatives have had genetic testing, it’s useful to have a copy of their results.
How long will it take to get my genetic testing results?
Genetic test results will be returned within 2-3 weeks on average.

Learn More

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The following videos help explain why it’s important for patients to understand their risk for hereditary cancer.