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Genetic Counseling and Testing

Expert genetic counseling at Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center

A Scripps genetic counselor in a white lab coat represents the expert genetic counseling offered at Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Expert genetic counseling at Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center

Genetic testing is done to help determine if a person has an increased risk for developing certain types of cancer that tend to be hereditary. For example, cancer risk may be higher if two or more close family members have the same type of cancer or gene mutation, or the same cancer occurs in several generations of a family. Genetic testing uses a blood sample to look for signs of a higher cancer risk. 


Genetic testing for cancer is not for everyone. Scripps physicians refer individuals or families to one of our certified genetic counselors to discuss whether testing is appropriate and learn more about the process. 


We know that possibly having an increased risk of cancer can cause anxiety, and genetic counseling offers valuable education and expert, compassionate guidance.  


While anyone can see a genetic counselor, not everyone may qualify for genetic testing through their health insurance. In most cases, there are specific coverage guidelines for genetic counseling, so contact your insurance carrier for more information.

What are genetic counselors?

Genetic counselors are health care professionals who specialize in advising individuals and families about genetic disorders. Scripps genetic counselors have advanced education and training in medical genetics and counseling. In addition to providing information and guidance about genetic testing, genetic counselors interpret test results and advise families about their options through education and support.

Who should get genetic counseling?

A physician referral is required to meet with a Scripps genetic counselor. Your physician may recommend genetic counseling if you have: 


  • A family history of hereditary cancers, such as ovarian cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, etc.
  • Had previous cancer genetic testing that identified a cancer gene mutation
  • Personal history of cancer at a younger age than typically seen
  • Personal history of multiple types of cancer 


If you think you may benefit from genetic counseling, talk with your physician about a referral.

What to expect from genetic counseling

During your first visit with a genetic counselor, the counselor will explain the relationship between genes and hereditary types of cancer. The counselor also will review your personal and family medical history, and perform a cancer risk assessment to evaluate your personal cancer risk and help determine whether genetic testing is an option for you or your family. While anyone can see a genetic counselor, insurance companies have specific guidelines for coverage of genetic testing. 


The decision to have genetic testing is a personal one. Even if the counselor does recommend genetic testing, you are not required to have the test. The counselor will review the benefits and risks of testing, discuss your concerns and help you make an informed decision. Then, you and your family members can decide together if and when to have testing.


Should you decide to have genetic testing, the genetic counselor will talk with you about which family member is the best candidate for testing. Usually, this will be someone who has had cancer. Your counselor also will discuss where to go for testing, how long it will take to get results and the cost. 


At the time of your blood test, the genetic counselor will discuss the estimated length of time it will take the lab to analyze your sample. The range is usually from one to three weeks. The genetic counselor will follow up with you to discuss the results by phone or in person. 


Genetic testing results become part of your medical record and are shared with your health care providers.

Our approach to genetic counseling at Scripps MD Anderson

Scripps MD Anderson genetic counselors provide expert, caring support and education to you and your family. We take a personalized approach to every patient, and will do our best to answer your questions and address your concerns to help you make an informed, confident decision about genetic testing.


Medical insurance may cover genetic testing depending on specific guidelines, such as an individual’s personal history of cancer, age at diagnosis and family history of cancer. Check with your insurance company to find out if genetic testing is covered. If insurance does not cover testing, in some cases a genetic counselor may still recommend testing if there is a high risk for a hereditary cancer syndrome or gene mutation.


Should you decide to have testing, we will help arrange your testing and make sure you understand your results, cost and next steps. Through genetic testing, Scripps genetic counseling team helps individuals and their families understand their cancer risks so that individualized cancer screening and risk reduction plans can be designed.