Genetic counseling is the personal side of science. Genetic counselors help families understand how their medical histories may affect future health, and they help weigh the risks and options.
Genetic counselors are health professionals with advanced degrees in medical genetics and counseling. They draw from a variety of related backgrounds such as biology, nursing, psychology, public health or social work. Counselors work as part of your healthcare team, providing information, support and community resources to families with or at risk for cancer, birth defects or other hereditary health conditions.
How can genetic counseling help me?
Ascension's genetic counseling program provides services throughout the lifespan, touching on five important areas: cancer, preconception, prenatal and newborn care, pediatrics and adult medicine.
Cancer Genetic Counseling
Some types of cancer can run in the family. Genetic counseling can help you understand your cancer risk and make personal decisions on how to address this risk through screenings or other proactive options.
Preconception and Prenatal Genetic Counseling
Many couples feel anxious about introducing a new baby to the family. If you have a personal or family history of birth defects or genetic disorders, or if you have abeen informed that your unborn baby has birth defects or a possible genetic condition, the anxiety can be overwhelming. If you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and have concerns about your baby’s future, genetic counseling can help.
Pediatric and Adult Genetic Counseling
Many types of diseases are passed down the family line. If you suspect you or your child is at risk for a hereditary condition, genetic counseling can help you cope.
Who benefits from genetic counseling?
People may benefit from genetic counseling if they have experienced any of the following health concerns or if their family histories are affected by the following conditions:
birth defects such as cleft lip or palate, congenital heart defects or spina bifida
genetic disorders including Down syndrome, Huntington disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and phenylketonuria (PKU)
mental retardation, learning disabilities, hearing or visual impairments
cancer, heart disorders, psychiatric or neurological disorders
multiple miscarriages, stillbirths or early infant death involving several congenital defects
women age 35 or older who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant
high-risk pregnancy due to abnormal ultrasound screening results or maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) test results
pregnant women concerned about exposure to medication, drugs, chemicals, infections, radiation or certain work conditions
ethnic groups or geographic areas with a higher occurrence of certain conditions, such as sickle cell disease, Tay Sachs disease or thalassemias.
What can I expect from a visit with a genetic counselor?
A genetic counselor will talk with you about your family history – including both the scientific and emotional aspects of your health heritage. She will help you complete a thorough evaluation of your family’s health history and identify any associated risks. She will also discuss options for proactive care or community resources.
Ascension's genetic counseling program is not designed to tell you what decisions you should make. Rather, we help you sort through the complex scientific information and any anxieties you may feel about your health risks (or, in the case of prenatal care, your baby’s health risks). Then we equip you with the knowledge to make an informed decision for yourself and your family.
How can I make an appointment?
If you think genetic counseling is right for you, talk with your primary care doctor about a referral. He or she can help arrange an appointment with an Ascension genetic counselor. To download a referral form, click here.