Many people have heard about genetics in crime scene investigations or paternity testing, the news, or shows on television. When we think about genetics, we are talking about DNA. DNA is the instruction book for our body. Just like a book, DNA can be broken down into chapters, sentences, and letters. Genes are the sentences of DNA. There are over 20,000 genes in our DNA.
We all have differences in our DNA and our genes: this is why some people have brown hair or blond hair, blue eyes or brown eyes. These changes are what make us unique. Some of these DNA changes are passed down from parents to children for many generations.
Some genes tell our body how to prevent cancer from developing. If there is a change in one of the cancer genes, someone may have an increased chance to develop cancer. These changes in cancer genes can occur due to lifestyle (tobacco use, obesity, etc.), mistakes that occur naturally as we grow, or they can be passed down in families.
Sometimes when there is a change in a cancer gene passed down in a family, we see certain patterns. Some patterns that we see include:
- Two or more close relatives with cancer
- Cancer diagnosed before age 50
- More than one diagnosis of cancer in an individual (second primary)
- Several generations with cancer
- Unusual or rare cancers
- Ethnicity (for example, Ashkenazi Jewish)
Is there one or more of these patterns in your family? If so, ask your doctor if you should meet with a genetic counselor.
What is Genetic Counseling?
Genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical concerns in their family. Genetic counselors help people make informed decisions about their health and genetic information.
Genetic counselors work in a variety of areas including pregnancy care and planning, pediatrics, cancer, and others. Genetic counseling is specific to your needs and the information you are seeking. Carle Cancer Center offers genetic counseling services. Your team can work with you to set up an appointment.
How to Prepare for Your Cancer Genetic Counseling Appointment
A typical genetic counseling visit includes:
- Discussion of medical history
- Collection of family history
- Discussion of how cancer risks can be passed down in a family
- Discussion of cancer prevention options and screening
- Review of genetic testing options
- Provide supportive counseling
People who have genetic counseling may have one visit, while other people meet with a genetic counselor every few years. Since information about cancer genetics is growing, and new testing options or recommendations may become available, you may wish to follow-up with a genetic counselor even if you had genetic counseling in the past.
You may want to gather some information before meeting with a genetic counselor. You may not be able to get all of the details, but the more information you have, the more your genetic counselor can help.
- Ask your relatives about medical conditions in the family, especially if someone has had cancer. How old were they when the cancer was diagnosed? Has anyone had genetic testing in the family?
- Gather any medical records of your cancer history or family history, especially if testing, diagnosis, or treatment were not performed at Carle Foundation Hospital.
- Bring a list of questions to your appointment.