Every day researchers are learning more about the genetics of cancer and how diseases run in families. If you have an inherited risk of disease in your family, a genetic counseling session can help you understand your personal risk or the risk for other family members. It can also help you learn what testing, surveillance, prevention strategies, or research trials may be right for your situation.
At the Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma, we are proud to have access to one of the world’s leading geneticists, Dr. John Mulvihill, via our Tele-medicine program. Since earning an international reputation in the genetics of human cancer 30 years ago, Dr. Mulvihill has been chief of clinical genetics for the National Cancer Institute, founder of the human genetics department at the University of Pittsburgh and cofounder of the International Genetic Epidemiology Society. He has directed medical genetics with CMRI/Kimberly V. Talley professor of pediatrics for the OU Health Science Center since 1998. His research focus is on hereditary and familial factors and on reproduction by cancer survivors as routes to understanding human germ cell mutation,
What Happens at A Genetic Counseling Session?
To assess your risk for an inherited condition, a genetic counselor needs to know medical information about you and your family. The genetic counselor will often take a more detailed family medical history and use this information to generate a family tree, which shows all of your relatives, their relationship to you and diseases they had. This diagram helps the genetic counselor determine your risk for inherited diseases. If you do have an increased risk, the counselor will make sure that you understand the basic genetic concepts that affect how the disease runs in families, educate you about the disease itself, and explain the level of risk for you and your family.
A Family Tree for A Family With the Inherited Syndrome FAP
After an initial appointment, the genetic counselor may need more information in order to make a final risk assessment. For example, they may need to know results of a pathology report on a relative’s tumor, or the exact age when a relative developed a disease. They may also need to review medical records for a relative to clarify a diagnosis.
Once the counselor has established your risk, he or she may discuss options — such as genetic tests if they are available — that may help clarify whether you or members of your family carry a genetic mutation that increases your risk for a particular disease. If there is an appropriate test, the counselor will discuss in detail what information it can give, the risks, benefits, limitations, and other possible consequences of being tested. They also provide detailed follow-up to be sure that you understand what the results mean. Even if genetic testing is not appropriate for your situation, the counselor will help you understand other options to reduce your risk (such as having ovaries removed in women at risk for ovarian cancer) or lifestyle changes that may help your situation. In many cases, the medical team will be involved in designing a plan of action for continued medical management.
The genetic counseling session will usually last at least an hour if not longer. Although some people may only require one session, others will require several sessions if they are pursuing genetic testing or for additional follow-up