Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Genetic counseling

Who should consider a genetic counseling appointment?
What happens at a genetic counseling appointment?
How do you make an appointment?
Does insurance cover genetic counseling and genetic testing?
What is genetic discrimination? Should patients be concerned?

Who should consider a genetic counseling appointment?

About one in 20 cancer patients has a strong family history of cancer. Having an inherited or genetic cancer risk could influence management of newly diagnosed cancers and guide prevention and early detection methods for patients and their family members.

Genetic risk for cancer is more likely when cancer is diagnosed at an unusually early age, when multiple close relatives have the same type of cancer and/or when a single individual has more than one type of primary cancer.

Genetic counseling can help people to understand their chances for cancer, what further testing might clarify their risks and how to manage their cancer risks.

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What happens at a genetic counseling appointment?

The goals of cancer genetic counseling include:

  • Assessing your and your family members’ risks for cancer based on hereditary (genetic) factors
  • Providing informed consent for appropriate genetic testing and/or research studies
  • Helping you craft a health plan tailored to your risks for cancer and your own preferences and life goals

Achieving these goals usually involves gathering information about your medical history and your family health history, discussing your particular concerns and sharing information about the latest in genetic advances and available testing.

This discussion usually involves a trained genetic counselor and a physician. Initial appointments typically last about an hour.

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How do you make an appointment?

To make an appointment or to learn more information about VCU Massey Cancer Center's Familial Cancer Clinic, you can contact a genetic counselor at (804) 828-5116.

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Does insurance cover genetic counseling and genetic testing?

Most health insurers cover the cost of genetic consultations, but individual policies may differ. More health insurers are covering the costs of genetic testing, but they may require a letter of medical necessity following the genetic counseling appointment to determine eligibility, or they may have other restrictions.

An important part of your genetic counseling appointment may involve determining which, if any, available genetic tests are important to consider, the chances that you would test positive, who in your family is the best person to test and what you might do with that information. Answers to each of these questions also may be important for determining insurance coverage for the testing.

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What is genetic discrimination? Should patients be concerned?

Genetic discrimination means someone is treated differently because he or she has an inherited condition or is at risk for having an inherited condition. State and federal laws restrict the ability of health insurers to discriminate based on genetic information, such as setting different premiums or determining eligibility for coverage.

Genetic discrimination by health insurers has not been a problem historically; however, it is a theoretical concern. Patients may want to talk to their genetic counselor about genetic discrimination when deciding about genetic testing.

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