Cancer Genetic Counseling Benefits

Finding personal information through genetic screenings has moved from the theoretical to reality. This includes simpler tests such as those found in local pharmacies and seen on television commercials, to complex screenings provided by the Genetic Cancer Counselor at Comprehensive Cancer Centers.

As genetic screenings have become more prevalent — and their ability to offer insight into potential risks such as cancer has become more accurate — people wonder which tests are the most thorough. Cancer genetic screening is a service that has been offered for several years. Comprehensive Cancer Centers offers cancer genetic counseling services where our cancer genetic nurse practitioner, Barbara Caldwell, MSN, APRN, can provide a thorough consultation and put together a comprehensive medical care plan tailored to the individual and their family. We can now test for more than 84 cancer genes.

“The science of genetic screening and research has become more mainstream, with most people learning about the technology while looking to learn more about personal history through genealogy,” said Barbara Caldwell, MSN, APRN. “Those tests are just the start of what’s possible in learning about themselves and testing through cancer genetic counseling offers an even more complete story for individuals that may save their lives.”

Caldwell and Comprehensive Cancer Centers’ oncologist Stephani Christensen, MD were recently included in a feature in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that showed how genetic testing provided a patient with information with detection of the ATM gene, which carries a higher risk for breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers.

The detection of the ATM gene led to the discovery of a lesion on the patient’s pancreas.  The patient had a successful surgical procedure and is now following up with chemotherapy. Without the genetic screening, a timely detection might never have happened.

As noted in the RJ story, Dr. Christensen encourages those who have had cancer or have a family history of cancer to get genetic testing. The closer the family connections are to a relative who had cancer, such as a parent or sibling, the more likely the chance of a cancer diagnosis.

How Does Cancer Genetic Counseling Work?

For those interested in learning about potential health risks, the following offers some simple insights into how the process works. The guidelines are general, with no two patient experiences the same.  Check with your health insurer to find out if genetic counseling and genetic testing will be covered before getting started.

Risk Assessment – The first step in genetic testing is to find out how likely a patient may be to develop certain diseases. This risk analysis begins with medical history and family history. If the test is for a specific cancer type, additional personal health information will be examined.

Genetic Counseling – Genetic counseling, as directed by Comprehensive’s Barbara Caldwell, presents information in an unbiased or neutral way to empower personal decision making. Often, the case for testing is clear and a health care provider will recommend testing and follow-up care. But even if that’s the case, you have the right to decline testing.

During a consultation, Barbara will explain how families inherit cancers and how genes are passed on to children. The benefits and limits of testing are discussed, as well as who should consider being tested. More than one family member may be offered testing, given certain risk factors.

Informed consent – After risk assessment and genetic counseling, if you decide to be tested you’ll be asked to give your informed consent in writing. The process of informing you and your family about testing should cover:

  • Purpose of the genetic test
  • Reason for offering the test to you and/or other family members
  • Type and nature of the genetic condition being tested for
  • Test accuracy
  • Pros and cons of testing
  • Other testing options available
  • Screening or treatment options depending on the test results
  • Further decisions that may need to be made once the results are back
  • Consent to use the results for research purposes after the test
  • Availability of counseling and support services
  • Right to refuse testing

Test Results – The process includes lab tests done on cells taken from your body. Genetic tests may be done on samples of blood, hair, cheek cells (from swabbing the inside of your mouth), urine, amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds a fetus during pregnancy) or other body tissues. Your genetic counselor will share the results with you. Some people choose to bring a family member to help share results with other family members.

Testing does not always give you clear answers, but genetic counselors are trained to interpret and explain the test results and what they might mean to you and your family. If a mutation is found, the counselor will talk to you about which of your family members might also be affected. It will be important for those family members to know exactly which mutation was found and in which gene. They can then discuss this with their health care providers and may decide to get tested, too.

Comprehensive Cancer Centers Can Help

Should cancer be detected through cancer genetic counseling, physicians at Comprehensive Cancer Centers provide a variety of treatment options including chemotherapy and radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer.  Additionally, clinical research may provide additional treatment options. For a complete list of clinical research studies currently being conducted at Comprehensive Cancer Centers, please click here. To schedule an appointment with the team at Comprehensive, please call 702-952-3350.


The content is this post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.