What’s In Your Genes?

Prototype of women

Genetic counseling might sound a little extraordinary, but there are a number of reasons why ordinary people seek it out.

A couple planning a pregnancy may have concerns about a family history of disease. Or a woman whose mom and sister both had breast cancer might want to know more about her risk.

“If you’re wondering about a genetic (inherited) condition and how it could affect your life, a trained genetic counselor may be able to help,” says Carol Tweed, MD, oncologist and hematologist.

Why Seek Help?

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on seeing a genetic counselor. But here are some reasons you might consider it:

  • A certain disease is linked to your ethnic group, such as sickle cell disease in African-Americans.
  • You or a family member has a known genetic condition.
  • You have a family history of early-onset cancer or have several family members with the same type of cancer.
  • You’ve had problems getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term.
  • A test during pregnancy came back with abnormal results.

“A genetic counselor can discuss options available to you. Depending on your situation, that might include undergoing genetic testing, talking about preventive measures or treatments, or going over reproductive choices,” says Dr. Tweed.

Before You Go

If you decide to seek genetic counseling, ask your doctor for a referral. Genetic testing is often covered by medical insurance, though it is a good idea to check your own policy.

Before your appointment with a genetic counselor, it may be helpful to glean information about your family’s medical history from relatives.

Also, write down your questions and concerns in advance. Be prepared to tell the counselor what’s important to you and the plans you have for your life.

Be sure you understand the benefits and risks of testing. Talk to the counselor about the emotional effects of both knowledge and uncertainty.

“If you decide to see if you have a gene that increases your risk for a disorder or passing that disorder on to a child, be aware that test results become part of your medical record,” advises Dr. Tweed.

The federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act legislation prohibits health insurers and most employers from discriminating against individuals based on genetic information. Life, disability and long-term care insurance have no protection from genetic discrimination on the federal level or in many states.

Sources: National Human Genome Research Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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