With genetic counseling, patients or relatives at risk of an inherited disease are advised of its consequences and nature, the probability of developing or transmitting the condition, and their options for disease management and family planning.
A genetic counselor can help people with a family history of certain diseases, including cancer, to determine whether genetic testing may be suitable for them and their family.
According to the press release, patients can be referred by their physicians for genetic counseling if they are diagnosed at a young age or if they have family members who have had cancer, especially if the family member had their cancer diagnosed before the age of 50.
Specific inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are tumor suppressor proteins, increase the risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC), and have been associated with an increased risk for other types of cancers. In 2013, Angelina Jolie was in the news after announcing she had a BRCA mutation, which later prompted her to undergo surgery to remove both breasts (a double mastectomy). She raised a tremendous amount of awareness for genetic testing in cancer.
Genetic testing can also be used for other hereditary conditions, such as Lynch syndrome, an inherited disorder that increases the risk for many types of cancer, particularly colon, ovarian, uterine and pancreatic. Estimates suggest that 1 in 400 people are affected with either HBOC or Lynch syndrome.
The cost of genetic testing can vary based on the number of genes to be tested, ranging from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. For people meeting certain criteria, most insurance companies cover genetic testing, so if a genetic counselor considers that genetic testing would be indicated, insurance is likely to cover it.
Some insurance companies require genetic counseling before people can have genetic testing.
If the results of the genetic testing indicate that a person is at increased risk for developing cancer, clinicians may recommend additional screening or surgery to target the cancer as soon as possible or to prevent it from developing.
Although genetic testing is often a source of anxiety because patients know they are at a higher risk for cancer, it is also an important tool that allows them to take charge of their health and to take measures that reduce their chances of developing the disease.