Because many types of cancer can be hereditary, JACC offers genetic counseling to patients with cancer and individuals who wish to know if they or their relatives are at risk for cancer due to hereditary factors.
Benefits of Genetic Counseling
While a genetic counselor cannot tell you whether you or a family member will develop cancer, you may become empowered to make better decisions about your health and alert your loved ones of their potential cancer risk. Learning your hereditary cancer risk may inspire you to follow screening guidelines that might find a developing cancer at the earliest possible stage or lead you to consider preventive measures, either of which could save your life. On the other hand, your findings may put you at ease should you find out you are not at increased hereditary risk.
You may have heard that positive findings on genetic tests could put you at risk for discrimination by insurance companies and employers. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, also referred to as GINA, is a federal law that protects Americans from being treated unfairly because of differences in their DNA that may affect their health. The law prevents discrimination from health insurers and employers.
How it Works
Those who wish to receive genetic counseling will work with board-certified genetic counselor Damini Desai, MS, CGC, on drawing a family tree. At this stage, patients often discover that their family history doesn’t put them at risk to the extent they had thought. Some of these patients who are not referred to genetic testing are simply able to live without the worry of increased hereditary risk, and others may have certain screenings recommended to them.
Should a strong enough hereditary pattern appear in the family tree, the next step will be genetic testing. Ideally, the person in the family most likely to test positive for hereditary cancer, usually someone who has already been diagnosed with cancer, should be tested. If we determine that the best candidate in your family lives outside of our area, we’ll work with you to refer that person to a facility that offers genetic testing.
After a blood or tissue sample is taken, it can be determined whether the patient is at higher risk for certain types of cancer than the general population due to hereditary factors. If so, there are three courses of action that may be recommended:
- Extra surveillance, such as adding a breast MRI to mammograms, initiating ovarian-cancer screening or starting colonoscopies at an earlier age with increased frequency
- Preventive medication, such as Tamoxifen for breast cancer risk reduction
- Preventive surgery, such as removal of the ovaries or colon
Candidates for Genetic Counseling
While not everyone is a candidate for genetic testing, genetic counseling is an affordable way to find out if you or members of your family are at increased risk for cancer due to hereditary factors. Whether you choose to use this service is a personal decision, and anyone with concerns about hereditary risk is welcome to set up an appointment. To help in making your decision, you may want to consider genetic counseling if any of the following situations apply to you:
- Someone in your immediate family has been diagnosed with cancer.
- You or someone related to you was diagnosed with a cancer at an age not typical for that type of cancer.
- You or an immediate family member was diagnosed with a rare cancer, such as adrenal cortical cancer, or multiple primary cancers, such as colorectal and endometrial cancers.
- You have a male relative with breast cancer.
- There’s cancer across two generations in your family.
- You are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent (eastern European) and have a relative with breast and/or ovarian cancer.
- You have a high degree of anxiety over your family history of cancer.
The genetic counselor will be able to tell you if your type of cancer appears to be hereditary or whether the combinations of cancers in your family are related or unrelated. For instance, breast and ovarian cancers are considered to be related hereditarily, while many other types are not. Therefore, multiple cancer diagnoses within the same family do not always indicate further testing.
Many medical plans cover testing for candidates who meet their criteria as determined through genetic counseling. Genetic counseling, not covered by insurance, will cost a small fee.
For more information or to set up an appointment, call 806.725.5101.