Genetic counselors are in demand now more than ever, and yet many people don’t understand the vital role they play in healthcare.
As part of Genetic Counselor Awareness Day, 23andMe’s Anne Greb, MS, CGC, one of 23andMe’s genetic counselors and lead on 23andMe’s Medical Education team, decided to tackle a few of the most common questions she hears from customers.
Anne, a certified genetic counselor, has more than 25 years of experience in genetic counseling program leadership, medical education, and administration. She previously directed the Joan H. Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics at Sarah Lawrence College, where she helped increase the program’s training capacity. She also previously served as president of the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
First, off Anne, what is a genetic counselor, and what do they do?
Genetic counselors have specialized training and education in both medical genetics and counseling. Our role is to help guide and support patients so that they better understand inherited diseases and genetic conditions that may affect them or their families. We also work to help people interpret and understand genetic test results. And, of course, we’re trained to support and counsel them as they make decisions based on what they learn from these tests.
In most cases, genetic counselors work in clinics or hospitals where they might specialize in areas such as prenatal care, pediatrics, oncology or cardiology. But here at 23andMe, a lot of the work our genetic counselors do centers on developing content or ensuring that it is clear, accurate, and understandable. We answer questions from health care providers about and other genetic counselors about 23andMe’s Personal Genetic Service. We also work on materials and programs to educate health care professionals about using personalized genetic information in the everyday care of their patients.
Why would someone need to go to a genetic counselor?
There are several reasons you might benefit from genetic counseling. Usually, it’s someone seeking to better understand a test result, or it might be because of a known genetic condition in their family’s medical history. So, for example, you might go to genetic counseling if you are planning to start a family and are concerned about an inherited condition that you are aware of runs in your family. A genetic counselor would help explain what that might mean to you.
Another reason to talk to a genetic counselor is that you might have a family history of cancer, or a health condition such as Alzheimer’s disease, or a heart disorder or another genetic condition. A genetic counselor may help you better understand what that might mean for you or your family. And finally, you may have tested and learned that you have a genetic variant that puts you at a higher risk for a condition. So, for example, you discover you carry one of the BRCA variants that put you at higher risk for breast, ovarian, prostate, or other types of cancers.
In all of these cases, genetic counselors can help you explore what the next steps might be for you and your family.
Does 23andMe have genetic counselors?
Yes, we do, but we do not offer genetic counseling for our customers. Instead, 23andMe helps customers find a genetic counselor in their local area if that is what they want to do. Customers can choose to work with either a genetic counselor or their doctor to discuss their results or discuss additional testing options if they are warranted.
That’s a good segue into our next question on how to find a genetic counselor if I need one?
There are several resources out there for you. Probably the starting point is the National Society of Genetic Counselors. Their website is loaded with helpful information and offers a useful start in exploring whether using a genetic counselor is right for you among the many resources in the NSGC’s Find A Genetic Counselor tool. You can use the tool to search the more than 3,300 genetic counselors in the U.S. and Canada by name, location, or even by area of specialty. Beyond that great resource, you can also either seek help from your doctor or your healthcare provider. Either may be able to provide you with a recommendation for a genetic counselor. Finally, there is also great information at the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
For valuable information and answers to more frequently asked questions, check out the NSGC’s FAQ page.