• What Is A Genetic Counselor?
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|What is a Genetic Counselor?
Genetic counselors are healthcare specialists who assess people for their chance of developing a disease based on their family and medical history. They offer advice on available and suitable tests, as well as any preventative actions. They provide counseling and encourage patients to take informed decisions where possible. They work with families who are at risk of inherited conditions, such as breast cancer or Huntington's disease. They also work with couples who are trying for a baby but where there may be a history of genetic disorders or birth defects.
In the first meeting, the counselor will ask about your family history/tree to determine which relatives may have affected by the condition in question. Questions will be asked about the age of the relative when they developed the disease and what the symptoms were - for example, if it was breast cancer, did it develop in just one or both breasts? The counselor then analyzes this information to determine the patient's individual risk. If the risk is fairly high, they may then discuss the possibility of DNA based genetic testing. There are hundreds of tests available, which can test for hundreds of diseases including ovarian cancer, Alzheimer's and Huntington's. Depending on the test, a sample of blood, urine, saliva or stool will be taken and sent to a lab for testing.
Genetic testing before pregnancy is often recommended to couples who already have a child a birth defect or genetic disorder. They are also recommended if a pregnancy after 35 is planned because the risk of Down syndrome is much higher.
Genetic testing during pregnancy is normally recommended when a routine ultrasound scan suggested a problem.
Genetic testing for breast cancer is recommend to women with a history of the disease in the family. In some cases knowledge of a genetic predisposition for a particular condition can lead to an individual pursuing preventative measures.
Your counselor will be able to discuss the pros and cons of any potential tests with you. Whether an at risk adult should have genetic testing at all, is still highly controversial. This is because a genetic predisposition to a disease, does not necessarily mean a person will develop it. However the knowledge may do more damage than good. For example a woman who discovers she carries the Huntington's disease gene, an ultimately fatal disease for which there is no cure, cannot do anything to stop the disease or treat it. All that will happen is that she will become paranoid about when the first symptoms will appear.
Even women who receive the all clear can have problems. Some who find out that they do not have the BRCA mutation which is linked to breast cancer carry a survivors guilt, particularly when they know their mother or sister carries the gene. Within a family, those with the gene can form a bond, and unconsciously reject the non-carrier.
Yes, and depending on your requirements, you may be recommended a specialized counselor. For example, there are counselors who specialize in prenatal counseling and birth defects, and others who work mainly in the cancer field. Yet other counselors do not specialize.
Expect to pay about $150 an hour for genetic counseling. The price can vary however depending on the complexity of the patient's problems. Some counselors are attached to hospitals and others operate private practices.
You can contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors for more information and a list of counselors:
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For more about tests while pregnant, see the following:
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