Hereditary Cancer Program
Center Pointe II
1100 Johnson Ferry Rd., Suite 355
Atlanta, GA 30342
Phone: (404) 851-6284
If you would like to learn more about genetic counseling and the implications of genetic testing, please attend one of our free monthly genetics education classes (Atlanta campus).
Genetic testing is not for everyone. Genetic counseling can help determine what is right for you.
With recent advancements in technology and increasing attention from the media, much has been in the news about genetic testing for cancer risk. Overall, only about 5-10% of all cancers are hereditary. These cancers are caused by a broken or mutated gene that is passed down in families from one generation to the next. Genetic counselors at the Northside Hereditary Cancer Program are specially trained experts that work with families who are concerned about their family history of cancer and are considering genetic testing.
Hereditary cancer is caused by mutations or changes in genes that a person is born with that increase the chance they will develop certain types of cancer over their lifetime. The most well-known example of genes associated with hereditary cancer are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which increase a woman’s lifetime risk to develop breast and ovarian cancer and increase a man’s risk to develop male breast and prostate cancers. Genetic mutations can be passed down from either parent. If a parent carries a genetic mutation, there is a 50% chance that it will be passed along to each child. Men and women can inherit these mutations, and men and women can pass on these mutations. It is possible to inherit a mutation from a person who has not had cancer, which is why a genetics evaluation is so important.
The cancers most often considered for a genetics evaluation include: breast, ovarian, colon, endometrial or uterine, stomach or gastric, kidney, thyroid, pancreatic and melanoma. It is important to remember that only about 5-10 percent of cancers are inherited so most often any of these diagnoses are not due to an inherited risk.
Learn more about the specific reasons to consider genetic counseling and testing for:
Genetic counseling occurs before genetic testing is considered. Meeting with a genetic counselor does not always mean a person is ready to have testing. Some people come in for an evaluation to learn about their options and to understand the implications of testing for themselves and their families.
During the initial visit, genetic counselors provide a thorough evaluation of an individual’s personal medical history and family history, a discussion of their possible hereditary risk and the available testing options, the cost of testing, insurance coverage, legal protections from genetic discrimination, as well as the implications of both positive and negative test results. Genetic counselors also help individuals understand how genetic testing might impact their family members as well since one genetic test has the potential to provide risk information for many family members at once. If the patient opts to pursue testing, they will meet with the genetic counselor a second time to review their results and discuss the implications.
The Hereditary Cancer Program's board-certified genetic counselors are trained to assess cancer risk, develop plans to reduce risk and provide education. They work with the Northside Cancer Institute staff, connecting patients with expertise of specialists in oncology, radiology, gastroenterology and surgery.
Genetic testing is always most beneficial when it begins with the individual in a family who has or has had cancer. However, in some cases testing can also be done in someone without cancer because of the history in their close relatives.
When you come for an appointment, it helps to come prepared. Helpful information to know before your appointment:
During the initial visit, you will have an in-depth consultation to examine your personal and family history. Our staff will draw a detailed family tree, or pedigree. The goal of this visit is to understand how cancer develops, and how we assess you and your family's risk for different types of cancer. A genetic counselor will discuss genetic testing, explaining the different tests and results. This is a good time to ask any questions that you or family may have. If you decide to proceed with a genetic test, a genetic counselor will coordinate the process for you, including the sample draw and insurance coverage. These days, genetic testing can often be done with a simple saliva sample.
Patients are seen in-person for their results. During the follow-up visits, the genetic counselor will review your results with you and help you understand the implications for you and your family. The genetic counselor will also review preventive and treatment options that may help you and your family reduce your risk of cancer. Even when a person tests negative for genetic mutations, they still may have a higher than average risk of cancer due to family history and some increased screening options may be available to them. All of that is reviewed during a results session. We will also work with your doctor and other specialists to ensure that all of your questions are answered and your doctor receives all of the information is reviewed.
Most insurance companies will cover the cost of both genetic counseling and genetic testing. When patients call to make their initial appointments, we provide detailed information on how to determine coverage for their visit so they feel comfortable making an appointment.
Some people worry that their insurance company may discriminate because of a genetic test result; however, there have been very few documented cases of insurance discrimination and there are both State and Federal laws in place to protect individuals from such discrimination.
Patients who wish to get started on collecting their family history information might use: My Family Health Portrait - A tool from the Surgeon General