Through one-on-one consultation with a genetic counselor, patients can share their concerns about the cancer history in their family and receive personalized risk assessment and information about genetic testing options. Genetic counselors provide support for families choosing to pursue genetic testing and follow-up consultation to discuss the implications of test results.
How can cancer be passed down in families?
Changes within our genes, which contain instructions for how our bodies will grow and function, can lead to the development of cancer. In some families, these genetic changes are inherited, or passed down through generations; people in these families were born with genetic changes that could predispose them to developing cancer later in life. Certain types of cancers, such as breast, ovarian, and colon cancer, are more likely to be inherited within families. Not all people with cancer develop the disease due to an inherited (also known as "hereditary") cause. Inherited forms of cancer make up only 5 to 10% of all cancer cases.
Meet the Giannakopoulos family who met with Winship genetic counselors to investigate their risk for medullary thyroid cancer. Read more.
Who can have an increased risk for inherited types of cancer?
The following are clues that could indicate hereditary cancer risk in a family:
- The same or related types of cancer in two or more close relatives on the same side of the family (close relatives are parents, siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews).
- Family members in multiple generations diagnosed with cancer.
- Early age at cancer diagnosis (usually under age 50).
- An individual with multiple types of cancer, multiple primary tumors, or bilateral cancer (like cancer in both breasts).
- Pattern of tumors consistent with a specific cancer syndrome (e.g. breast & ovarian or colon & uterine).
- Rare types of cancer.
- High-risk ethnicity (i.e. Ashkenazi Jewish).
Why do patients have genetic testing?
Genetic testing looks for changes in genes that could increase the risk for diseases, such as cancer. This type of testing usually involves collecting a sample of blood or saliva. Individuals can have genetic testing to determine if they have an increased risk of cancer and could have passed this risk on to their family members. The results of genetic testing can help you and your doctors determine cancer screening and treatment plans, help you better understand cancer risks for yourself and your family members, and help you make decisions about cancer prevention. Since genetic testing is not recommended for all individuals with a personal or family history of cancer, it is important to talk to a genetic counselor before you pursue genetic testing.
Why should I talk to a genetic counselor before having genetic testing?
A genetic counselor can help you determine if genetic testing for a predisposition to cancer is right for you and your family members. Genetic counselors conduct risk assessment, explain inheritance patterns, availability of testing, prognosis, medical management, and treatment options. They also discuss the risks, benefits, and limitations of genetic testing and talk about how the results of testing could impact you and your family. Genetic counselors can also answer questions you have about hereditary forms of cancer. Issues that may impact the decision to have genetic testing, such as family dynamics, the medical management of at-risk family members with/without genetic testing, confidentiality, insurability and family planning, are also discussed. Not all individuals who talk with a genetic counselor decide to have testing.
Is genetic testing covered by my insurance? How could genetic testing impact my ability to keep or obtain health insurance?
Coverage for genetic testing varies among different health insurance plans. A genetic counselor can help you determine types of genetic tests that could be covered by your health insurance.
In 2008, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) was passed. This federal law protects individuals with genetic conditions from discrimination from health insurers and employers.
Since the law does not cover life insurance, long-term care insurance, or disability insurance, it may be beneficial to establish these before having genetic testing.
The Winship Genetic Counseling Program is available at three locations:
- Tuft's House (2004 Ridgewood Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30322) next door to Winship Cancer Institute on the Clifton campus of Emory University. Directions
- Winship at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital (5665 Peachtree Dunwoody Road NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30342) on the first level; check-in at the infusion center. Map/Directions
- Winship at Emory University Hospital Midtown (550 Peachtree Street, NE Atlanta, Georgia 30308) on 18th floor of the Medical Office Tower. Map/Directions
Prepare for your Appointment
During your appointment, the genetic counselor will take your pedigree (family history) and ask you questions about family members with cancer such as their age at diagnosis and what type of cancer they had. It is often helpful to bring someone with you to the genetic counseling session, such as your spouse, parent, sibling, or close friend, who can support you through the decision making process, particularly if you are planning to have genetic testing.
Prior to your appointment, it is helpful to provide medical records on any family members with cancer to help determine cancer risks in your family. When possible, obtaining medical records prior to your meeting with the genetic counselor is desirable. Additionally, please download and complete the appropriate new patient form below and fax to (404) 778-3888.
- Director of Genetic Counseling
- Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
Ms. Stanislaw provides genetic counseling, including risk assessment and test coordination, for individuals concerned about the possibility of hereditary cancer susceptibility.
- Certified Genetic Counselor
- Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital
Ms. Ehivet provides comprehensive genetic counseling for individuals and families at increased risk for hereditary cancer.
- Genetic Counselor
- Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
Ms. Tallo provides genetic counseling for individuals and families at increased risk for hereditary cancer.