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Satisfying Popular Curiosity: What Is Genetic Counseling?

Posted on by Georgia Loucopoulos, Guest Blogger, Genetic Counseling Training Program Class of 2019, Emory University School of Medicine

a crowd asking What is Genetic Counseling with a double helixAs 2018 comes to a close and the data comes rolling in, it can officially be said that “genetic counseling” was the most popular search term in the Public Health Genomics Knowledge Base (PHGKB). Genetic counseling is one of the fastest growing careers in the country, with a growth rate of 29% since 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But what exactly does it entail, and why is it such a hot topic?

A genetic counselor assesses your risk of having a genetic condition, based on your personal health history and your family health history. They take complicated genetic topics and break them down so they’re easier to understand. With this information, they empower you to make an informed decision on whether genetic testing is right for you and, if so, what test to choose. Then, they help you understand the genetic test results and decide what course of action you want to take. Genetic counselors are trained to help people through the emotional rollercoaster that can sometimes accompany genetic testing. Genetic counselor are required to have a Master degree, board certification, and state licensure (in some states).

There are many reasons why someone might see a genetic counselor. A couple planning a pregnancy could see a genetic counselor to address concerns about a family history of a genetic condition that might affect their baby during infancy or childhood. People with a strong family history of cancer can see a genetic counselor to check if they have a genetic predisposition for cancer. Children and adults with developmental delay, intellectual disability, or unusual physical features can see a genetic counselor to discover if they might have a genetic condition. Some genetic counselors work in specific medical specialties, such as neurology or cardiology. Genetic counselors also work for the genetic laboratories that perform the tests, where they make sure that the ordered genetic test is most appropriate for the patient. They also work in research, in non-profit organizations, and in public health. Overall, genetic counselors are great sources of genetic information for the general public, for doctors, and for other healthcare workers.

With the steep increase in direct-to-consumer genetic tests, more and more people have heard the term “genetic counseling.” Some people have even searched for a genetic counselor to help them understand these direct-to-consumer genetic test results. However, it’s still a growing profession, so not everyone is familiar with it. We’re glad that their research has brought them to PHGKB. PHGKB can direct you to peer-reviewed publications concerning different areas of genetic counseling, genetic counseling-related news articles and websites, and to videos that explain what genetic counselors do.

One of the PHGKB search results you’ll find is a video that explains cancer genetics and testing for an inherited mutation that could make you predisposed to get cancer. This video can give you more information about cancer genetic counseling, if you’re thinking of going for an appointment. One of the many peer-reviewed publications discusses the challenges of doing prenatal genetic counseling for Fragile X syndrome, an inherited form of intellectual delay. Another publication discusses updates to genetic testing and clinical management of polydactyly, a condition in which someone has extra fingers or toes. If you prefer news articles, there are links to news and editorials on direct-to-consumer genetic testing. As you can see, there is plenty of information to help you better understand the role that genetic counselors play in promoting genetic health in the general public.

If you want to make an appointment with a genetic counselor, discuss with your doctor whether a referral is appropriate. You can also find a genetic counselor near you through the National Society of Genetic Counselors website.

Posted on by Georgia Loucopoulos, Guest Blogger, Genetic Counseling Training Program Class of 2019, Emory University School of Medicine

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