Genetic Counseling

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According to the American Cancer Society: “Evidence suggests that one-third of the more than 500,000 cancer deaths that occur in the United States each year can be attributed to diet and physical activity habits…” 

But it’s also estimated that at least 10% of all cancers are hereditary.  Should you consider genetic testing?  What are the ramifications?  Who pays for it?  How much does it cost? What about privacy?  Is it reliable?

Obviously, before you decide to get  tested, you need to do some research.  The American Cancer Society has an excellent overview of the key issues and questions.

What are the most common hereditary cancers?  According to Robbin Palmer, PhD, a local Reno genetic counselor, there’s hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, that many are familiar with, but also hereditary colon cancer, hereditary pancreatic cancer, hereditary prostate cancer, hereditary melanoma, hereditary eye cancer, and others.

In hereditary cancer, a mutation (change) in a single gene leads to a strong predisposition for cancer to develop.  The red flags for hereditary cancer are:

*multiple family members with cancer

* multiple cancers in one person

* young age at diagnosis of cancer

* cancer in both of paired organs (such as bilateral breast cancer)

* Ashkenazi Jewish (Eastern European) ancestry

Often, genetic testing is available for determining if a cancer is hereditary.  A genetic counselor can help you make an informed decision about whether or not to pursue this course of action.  They can educate an individual on the risks, benefits, and limitations of genetic testing; help you assess the risk of a hereditary cancer in an individual/family; and discuss the availability of genetic testing for hereditary cancer.

The identification of a hereditary cancer has ramifications for the medical management of the individual with cancer, and allows presymptomatic (before cancer develops) genetic testing of family members, who may then take prophylactic action to prevent cancer from developing.

This is a complex scientific and emotional issues with ramifications for everyone.  Locally, Dr. Robbin Palmer performs genetic counseling.  She also provided information for this blog entry.

Robbin Palmer is a 1990 American College of Medical Genetics and 1993 and 2007 American Board of Genetic Counseling certified genetic counselor, with more than 20 years experience in genetic counseling.

She received her genetic counseling training at the University of Cincinnnati in Ohio and has participated in the City of Hope (Duartre, CA) Intensive Course in Cancer Risk Assessment.

Before becoming a genetic counselor, she performed research in molecular genetics.

More information on genetic testing can be found on Dr. Palmer’s website, Dr. Palmer will be our speaker at the October Club meeting.


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