Genetic Counselor Awareness Day – November 14, 2019
What are genetic counselors?
This is a question all genetic counselors (GC) are asked at some point in their career and one we are all too happy to answer! Sometimes we are asked “why do our genes need counseling?” or “are you a therapist for people with genetic conditions?” Although it is understandable why people ask these questions with a job title of “genetic counselor”, our role is more similar to an educator or teacher. GCs are healthcare providers that help people and families understand how certain health and/or developmental conditions occur in a person or a family. GCs help you navigate the complex world of genetics and decide if genetic testing is the right choice for you and your family. As our understanding about genetics improves, we are realizing genetics plays a role in more and more health conditions. Further, there are thousands of genetic tests available, some of which can be bought at a local drug store, while others must be ordered by a healthcare provider. Determining if you have or are at risk for a genetic condition can be confusing. Combine that with trying to figure out if testing is available and how it may help, is even more confusing. This is where a GC comes in!
So how do you meet with a genetic counselor?
GCs work in a lot of different settings. Some work in prenatal centers talking with couples about their chance of having a child with a specific genetic condition or with a pregnant woman who is interested in doing prenatal screening for genetic conditions in her baby. Others work in cancer centers talking with people who are diagnosed with cancer. For example, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer at 42 years of age may meet with a GC to talk about how testing may help with her treatment, prognosis, and risk assessment for other family members. Others work at children’s hospitals and meet with parents who have a child with developmental or health concerns and want to understand why. Genetic testing may help answer “why” and provide information so the child can receive more personalized developmental and medical treatment. It can also provide information about their chances to have another child with similar challenges. Other settings where GCs work include cardiology and adult genetics clinics, insurance companies, genetic testing laboratories, and even within research projects, to name a few. There are now over 5,000 certified genetic counselors in this rapidly growing field with GCs participating in nearly every facet of healthcare!
What if no one in your family has a genetic condition but you still think something genetic may be going on with you or your family?
It is important to know genetic conditions are not always heritable, meaning a genetic condition is not always passed down from a parent to a child. Sometimes a genetic condition can occur brand new in a person. Other times, a genetic condition is heritable and is passed down from a parent to their child. Although many families think a genetic condition “skips generations”, this rarely, if ever, happens. Genetic testing may determine if a condition is heritable or brand new in a person, which can help identify other relatives who may be at risk. It is common for people to avoid testing out of fear of feeling guilty or blaming themselves for passing down a genetic condition to their children. However, it is important to remember that we have no control over what genes we pass down to our children and in fact, better understanding about our genes can be empowering. GCs are here to support and educate you and your family about choices, your concerns, and how testing may help answer your questions. The decision to pursue genetic testing is personal. Meeting with a GC does not mean you have to do genetic testing. However, meeting with a GC may help you decide if testing is the right choice for you and your family.
Want to learn more about genetic counselors?
To learn more about genetic counselors, how they can help you and your family, and/or locate one near you, please visit: http://aboutgeneticcounselors.com/