Genetic counseling is a way for patients to find out whether they are susceptible to cancers or if their children could be prone to genetic disorders that run in the family. Genetic counselors need to have an undergraduate degree with a strong background in psychology as well as biology.
What is a Genetic Counselor?
A genetic counselor is a health professional who will meet with patients throughout the course of their workday. The counselor has more than one aspect of their job. They will take a family history, learn the reason they are coming in for genetic testing and provide emotional support during the entire testing process.
There are clinical genetic counselors who will consult with individuals and families about their genetic testing as well as the results. There are also counselors who work in the research aspect of the field, which means they might gather and analyze data as a result of the testing.
Where Could Genetic Counselors Work?
Counselors can work in a variety of settings from major hospitals to testing labs. There are usually departments that will cover genetic testing, and doctors will refer their patients for further testing. The places they work will depend on how large the facility is and what kind of specialty areas the building has.
Prenatal Referrals from a Doctor
A doctor may refer a patient to a genetic counselor for testing when there have been abnormal test results during a prenatal visit. Those who are thinking of becoming pregnant might seek testing to avoid inherited medical conditions.
The genetic counseling professional will administer the testing, which can include a family history. After testing, the counselor will discuss the results whether they are positive or negative. When parents are older, there are chances for disorders that can be screened for during the early stages of pregnancy. The counselor will discuss the next steps in the patient’s care at this time.
Children can be sent to a genetic counselor if there’s a developmental delay, autism or abnormal features that indicate a genetic disorder. There could be multiple problems due to birth defects that will require specialized care, but only after a diagnosis can be made.
This information in children can lead to a prognosis that will inform their treatment plan. It might also influence whether the parents decide to grow their family in the future too.
Adults can be referred for genetic testing if there’s a history of cancer in the family. There could be the potential for more than one kind of cancer in the same patient. Genetic mutations can cause problems for future generations as well as inform current patients of their susceptibility to cancer.
It can detect the chance of colon or breast cancer in those under the age of 50, so that the doctor and patient can decide on the future together. Angelina Jolie brought genetic testing into the spotlight with her decision to have a mammogram after discovering she was susceptible to breast cancer.
Students who are considering the field of genetic counseling can specialize in certain areas like prenatal testing or cancer treatment. A genetic counselor can find challenging and rewarding work in a public health setting, private practice, laboratory or at a pharmaceutical company.