Cancer Genetic Counseling & Testing

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Cancer Genetic Counseling and Testing

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Genetic counseling and testing at the Swedish Cancer Institute’s Hereditary Cancer Clinic can help determine your risk and your family members' risks for developing hereditary cancers including (but not limited to) breast, ovarian and colon cancers. Patients and family members meet with a board-certified genetic counselor who will review medical and family histories to determine which genetic tests are appropriate, as well as the risks, advantages and costs of genetic testing for hereditary cancers.

Overview of Genetic Counseling

In the video below, Brianna Nelson, a certified genetic counselor at the Swedish Cancer Institute, talks about what to expect from a genetic counseling session and answers frequently asked questions.

Video: Facebook live event 

In the video below, Swedish genetic counselors discuss the role of genetic testing in the early detection and prevention of cancer.

Benefits of Genetic Testing

The results of genetic testing can help patients and their physicians develop an appropriate treatment plan, as well as indicate appropriate screening tests and medical procedures for relatives who may be at risk of cancer. The genetic counselor works closely with oncologists, surgeons and other cancer specialists to help integrate the genetic-test results into patient care and surveillance for cancer.

What to Expect

Patients and family members meet with a board-certified genetic counselor – a health professional with specialized training in genetics, medicine, risk assessment and counseling. The appointment usually lasts 30-90 minutes. Testing usually requires a simple blood draw. Results usually take about two weeks. All results are confidential.

How to Prepare for your Appointment

Before your appointment, you will be emailed a confidential link to complete an online personal and family cancer history questionnaire. We strongly encourage you to complete this form before your genetic counseling appointment. This helps your genetic counselor provide the most accurate risk assessment possible. 

Genetic Testing, DNA Banking Benefit Survivors and Families

The Hereditary Cancer clinic can help cancer survivors and their relatives learn of their risk for hereditary cancers - particularly breast, ovarian and colon cancers. If you are a cancer survivor and had a hereditary cancer, then you may be at increased risk of developing another cancer, and your family could also be at risk.

Using breast cancer as an example, a survivor whose cancer was not hereditary has a 5 percent risk of developing a new, second breast cancer. If, however, the initial breast cancer was hereditary, as determined by family history and genetic testing, then there is a 30-40 percent chance of a new, second breast cancer developing.

The gene mutations that cause breast cancer also boost the risk of ovarian cancer to 40 percent, as opposed to a 2 percent risk in the general population. "Five percent to 10 percent of women or men with breast cancer have a hereditary component," says Robert Resta, Swedish Cancer Institute’s Genetic Counselor, "and there are a half-dozen genes that can lead to breast cancer. We can test for these genes, if the tests are appropriate based on your family or medical history."

Genetic testing usually involves a routine blood draw or collection of a saliva sample. The cost of testing varies depending on the lab performing the test and insurance coverage. Coverage, potential cost, and self-pay options will be discussed during an appointment with a genetic counselor.

For some types of cancer, there are no reliable genetic markers at the present time, nor are there any reliable screening tests to detect the cancers at an early and treatable stage. Research continues, however, with the goal of discovering more genetic markers and developing a new generation of screening tests. Because of ongoing genetic research, survivors of any kind of cancer may want to consider having their DNA banked. If you have had cancer and there are no current genetic markers, your family can use your DNA for testing when new genetic markers are identified in the future. DNA banking is one of the best gifts that you can give your children and grandchildren. This can help future generations accurately determine their cancer risk and take measures to reduce that risk. DNA banking, like testing, only involves a simple blood draw, and is relatively inexpensive.