Genetic Counseling Program

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Approximately 5-10 percent of cancer is inherited. Individuals with a genetic predisposition will have a far higher chance of developing cancer within their lifetime and at an earlier age.

Genetic testing and counseling programs can help determine whether a family has a hereditary cancer predisposition syndrome. Individuals who have genetically higher risks to develop certain cancers are recommended to follow high-risk cancer surveillance and management.

The Clinical Cancer Genetics Program at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center can coordinate genetic testing and high-risk cancer surveillance for individuals and their families with heredity cancer syndromes.

Appointments & Referrals

Referral indications to the Clinical Cancer Genetics Program include patients with the following risk factors:

  • Cancer that occurs at an earlier age than in the general population
  • Two or more different cancers in the same person
  • Two or more close family members who have had the same type of cancer (for example: Mother and sister with breast cancer, or father and daughter with colorectal cancer)
  • Same type of cancer in several generations of the family
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry (Eastern or Central European) with breast or colorectal cancer
  • Polyposis (multiple polyps in the stomach or intestines)
  • Rare cancers such as sarcoma or male breast cancer
  • Concerns about developing cancer because of family history

Cancer Risk Assessment

A consultation with our Clinical Cancer Genetics Program generally will include the following:

Medical & Family History Review

The genetic counselor will obtain information about the patient’s personal medical history, as well as a cancer-focused family tree including many generations. Patients are asked to complete the Genetic Risk Assessment Questionnaire and bring it with them to their initial genetic counselling appointment.

Patients can review additional tips to gather a cancer-focused family history below:

Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment

The genetic counselor will assess the likelihood of hereditary cancer predisposition in the family and will discuss this assessment with the patient. When medically indicated, this will include a discussion of any relevant genetic testing.

Discussion Regarding Genetic Testing

A genetic test is the process of testing blood to find genetic mutations that may contribute to an increased risk for some cancers. Patients are also counseled on the ethical and legal issues of genetic testing. Patients who appear to be appropriate candidates for genetic testing based on the pattern of cancers in their families will be given information about the available test or tests.

Individualized Cancer Screening & Prevention Recommendations

Based on the family history and/or genetic test results, each patient receives information on the methods available to reduce their risk of cancer. This may include a discussion of screening strategies, chemoprevention and prophylactic surgery. As needed, patients are referred to high risk screening clinics for further discussion and long-term follow-up.

Read some of our Frequently Asked Questions below:

Genetic counseling is a process of providing information and support about genetics and inherited conditions to an individual or family. The goal of genetic counseling is to provide clear and clinically relevant information about genetic risk factors in an atmosphere of support and education.

Genetic counselors are health care professionals with graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. Most enter the field with a background in biology, genetics, nursing, psychology, public health or social work.

During your cancer risk assessment, the genetic counselor will discuss whether genetic testing is an option for you or your family to consider and will help you understand the role of genes in causing cancer. Genetic testing involves analyzing a blood sample for specific changes in the DNA, or genetic information. The decision to have genetic testing is a personal choice that can be made at the time of the counseling visit, or at a future date. 

Once you have made the decision to move forward with genetic testing, the genetic counselor will perform a cancer risk assessment based on the information you provide. The first genetic consultation visit will usually last 60-90 minutes.

During the risk assessment, your genetic counselor will discuss:

  • Your personal cancer risks 
  • The chances that a risk for cancer might be passed through the genes in your family
  • Any additional recommended genetic testing could be helpful in determining the risks for your family 
  • Appropriate screening and prevention for you and your family

If eligible, you will be given information about research programs at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Once a genetic counselor has met with you for your cancer risk assessment, they can discuss how often you may need to be seen throughout the process. This often depends on follow-up of additional family history information, whether you or a family member decides to have genetic testing and the complexity of the situation.

You are welcome to invite anyone to come with you (family, friend, etc.) to your appointment, but you will be the main focus of the consultation. If you bring a friend or family member with you and they have specific questions or concerns, it may be necessary to schedule a separate appointment for them.

Genetic testing is not recommended for everyone. During your cancer risk assessment, we will help you decide if genetic testing is right for you. Genetic testing usually begins with a family member who has had cancer. Individuals should thoroughly consider whether or not to have genetic testing. During the genetic counseling visit, we will discuss any concerns you may have about genetic testing as well as possible results, benefits, risks and limitations of the testing. We will also discuss cost, insurance coverage and issues of genetic discrimination.

Genetic testing is available for some families with a strong family history of certain types of cancer. During your cancer risk assessment, we will help you decide if genetic testing is right for you or your family. It is best to begin genetic testing with a family member who has had cancer or a precancerous condition that suggests susceptibility to cancer. The genetic counselor will discuss who the best person in your family is to consider genetic testing.

No. There is no special preparation before you have your blood drawn for genetic testing. Patients typically have one to two tubes of blood drawn for testing. The genetic counselor will explain the process of genetic testing before you have your blood drawn to answer any of your questions and concerns.

Once a genetic test is determined to be appropriate for you or your family, the genetic counselor will discuss with you the sensitivity of the test (ability to detect genetic changes).

The cost ranges from $350 - $4,000 or more, based on the specific test ordered. The genetic counselor will determine the specific genetic test that is recommended for you and discuss the cost of testing prior to ordering any genetic testing. Some insurance companies cover the cost of genetic testing.

Our services are covered by many insurance companies. In order to verify if your insurance company will cover your visit, please contact your Patient Financial Services Specialist. If your insurance requires a letter of medical necessity for your genetic counseling visit to be covered, please contact your referring physician and ask them to provide your insurance the letter of medical necessity.

If you choose to undergo genetic testing, the genetic counselor will discuss insurance coverage and letter of medical necessity. The genetic counselor will not be able to write a letter until after you have received a cancer risk assessment.

At the time of your blood draw, the genetic counselor will discuss with you the estimated length of time it will take the lab to analyze your sample. The range is usually from two weeks to one month. The genetic counselor will contact you with your test results when they become available. If a follow up appointment is necessary to discuss your results, the genetic counselor will inform you at the time you are contacted.