What Does My Genetic Test Tell Me? Genetic Counseling Can Explain
Genetics can tell us a lot, so long as we understand how to interpret them. In some cases, our genes can make us vulnerable to certain inherited diseases. One such example is breast cancer; mutations in the BRCA gene family are linked to 5-10% of all cases (and up to 15% of ovarian cancer cases). Genetic testing has made it possible to determine whether a person carries a specific mutation. Yet taking such a test — especially if the result is positive — could raise more anxieties than it puts to rest. The specialized field of genetic counseling is one way to fill knowledge gaps and help individuals understand what results they may receive, and what exactly that means for their health and future risk.
A recent study found that of women who elected to undergo testing for BRCA mutations, few were offered genetic counseling. However, those who received the service reported better understanding of their personal results and more satisfaction with the knowledge they gained. As the cost of these tests lowers to more affordable levels and more people may choose to take them as a predictive measure, it may not be feasible for all patients to access genetic counseling (which is covered as a preventive service under the Affordable Care Act). But for some, especially individuals with a strong family history of an inheritable disease, it may be worth requesting more information or asking a doctor or specialist whether genetic counseling before getting tested would be a good idea.