Is genetic counseling right for me?
Chelsy Jungbluth, genetic counselor at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz.
Question: My mother has breast cancer. Does that guarantee that I will have breast cancer too? How can I know?
Answer: We have known for a long time that common diseases such as cancer, heart disease, asthma and diabetes, as well as rare diseases, like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and sickle cell anemia, can run in families. However, that does not “guarantee” that you are going to have the same medical conditions as your mother, father, brother or sister.
These kinds of questions, as well as questions on why the same disease effects people so differently, have helped make genetic research as an important part of many new medical studies. As our understanding advances, we are better able to explain how your lifestyle choices and your genetic information can impact your health.
Scientists have identified many of the genes responsible for rare disease and are working hard to understand the role of genes in common and complex diseases, like heart disease. With our growing knowledge and understanding, the use of genetic tests has become more and more common.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should go out and get a genetic test tomorrow. In fact, you can do your own “genetic testing” very easily , the best place to start is by pulling together a health history of your family. I suggest you start simple – with your immediate family. Ask your relatives simple questions such as their age daily medications they take, and get a list of medical conditions and get a list of past surgeries and births. From there, you can move into more detailed information on their health history and soon create a Family Health Tree that will serve not only your health, but also your families.
Reviewed March 2011