Hereditary Cancer: Genetic Counseling and Testing

male doctor showing a piece of paper to a female patient

Is cancer a genetic condition?

Cancer results from an accumulation of genetic changes within a cell that allow uncontrolled cell growth. In the vast majority of cancers, these changes are not inherited but occur after birth due to certain environmental agents. Occasionally, families have a very strong cancer history suggesting that a major inherited cancer predisposition gene is responsible. The most common inherited cancers include breast, ovarian and colon, although other types exist. 

Who might have a genetic predisposition to cancer?

The characteristics of families genetically prone to cancer include an early age at diagnosis, bilateral tumors, and cancers that have affected multiple generations.

Indications for a Cancer Genetics Evaluation include:

Breast and Ovarian Cancer
Colorectal Cancer
Other Cancer Syndromes

Who should consider genetic testing?

Genetic testing is not for everyone. After a family history risk assessment, individuals who have a reasonable likelihood of being genetically predisposed to cancer are offered genetic testing. Prior to testing, individuals will learn the significance and implications of the possible test results to be sure they are making an informed choice about testing.

Genetic testing may help clarify cancer risks for an individual and his or her family members, as well as allow individuals to make informed decisions about their clinical cancer risk management.

What to expect in a genetic counseling session

  • Risk Assessment – The genetic counselor will take a complete family history and medical history. It may be necessary to review medical records.
  • Genetic Counseling – Includes learning about the genetics of hereditary cancer, risk assessment, and genetic testing. This phase of the genetic counseling session may involve identifying and coping with the psychological and social concerns related to an increased cancer risk. It also consists of discussions about decision-making and familial implications of hereditary cancer and genetic testing.
  • Genetic Testing – Genetic tests and/or participation in research studies are offered if appropriate. Deciding whether or not to have genetic testing is a personal choice that can be discussed with the genetic counselor.
  • Test Results – Individuals who pursue genetic testing may be asked to return for a second session to discuss the results and possible management strategies. Genetic risks to family members are reassessed based on the genetic test results.
  • Risk Reduction Strategies – Discussion of surveillance and preventative measures will vary depending on the type of cancer, genetic test results, and personal and medical family history. Options may include intensive monitoring, medications and surgery. Referrals to appropriate medical specialists are made as needed. Some individuals also find referrals to professional counseling services and/or support groups helpful.

Does insurance cover genetic testing?

Most insurance plans cover genetic testing if certain insurance criteria are met. The genetic counselor will determine whether you meet your insurance plan’s criteria for any appropriate genetic testing. For most genetic testing, the testing laboratory will contact you regarding any significant out-of-pocket expense for your approval before beginning the test. For more information about genetic counseling and testing, please call 865-374-TCSC (8272) for a free education packet.

Making appointments and referrals

To schedule an appointment or to make a referral, call 865-331-2350.

Covenant Health