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While most cancer isn’t genetic, your family history can affect your risk for certain types of cancer. The Center for Genetics at Atrium Health Levine Cancer is dedicated to helping you and your family learn more about your potential risk for cancer so that you can make informed decisions about your health.

Our specially trained team of experts will lead you through genetic counseling to help you determine whether genetic testing is right for you, understand your individual cancer risk and learn the best ways to manage it.

Genes and cancer

Genes are found in every cell of your body, and each gene has a job. Genes tell your cells what to do and when to grow and divide. Some genes help protect you from cancer.

Cancer occurs when a gene has a change (like a typo) that prevents the gene from doing its job correctly. You may be born with gene changes that are hereditary, meaning they run in your family. Having a change in one of your genes doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely get cancer, but it may mean that your risk for cancer is higher.

Is genetic counseling right for you?

Genetic counseling can help you find out if your genes might raise your risk of cancer. Learning about your genetic risk can help you prevent cancer or find it early, when it’s most treatable. If you do get cancer, it may also change how your doctor treats it.

You may want to consider genetic counseling if you or a close family member have had:

Genetic counseling - what to expect from Levine Cancer

Most visits last 45 minutes to 1 hour. You’ll meet with a genetic counselor, a health professional with advanced training in medical genetics and counseling. Sometimes, you’ll also meet with a geneticist, a doctor who specializes in genetics.

We’ll ask about your personal and family history of cancer. Then, we’ll talk about the chances that cancer in your family is caused by changes in your genes. We’ll also talk about what cancer screenings you might need and help you schedule those visits.

Genetic testing may be offered to you if your personal or family history meets certain criteria, but it’s up to you if you want to be tested. The testing is most often done as a blood test or a saliva (spit) test. You may need to come in for a follow-up visit to talk about the results.

Getting ready for your visit

Before your visit, try to learn as much as you can about the history of cancer in your family. For each family member who has had cancer, try to find out:

  • Where in their body the cancer started
  • How old they were when they learned they had cancer
  • If they had genetic testing

Please bring this information with you to your visit. If someone in your family has had genetic testing, try to bring a copy of the results with you. We can review these results and talk about the best options for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Genetic testing is more complex than other lab tests. Genetic counselors are specially trained to help find the test that is best for you. They make sure the testing is done correctly and will make sure you understand the results. For these reasons, genetic counseling is a required part of your genetic testing.

Genetic testing has changed a lot in the last few years. If you’re not sure if you need or want more testing, make an appointment with us. We’ll review your past testing and discuss whether it would be helpful to have more done.

Having genetic testing is a personal decision. If a close family member has had “positive” genetic testing, you’ll have the option to have your own testing done. A positive result means a change was found in a gene and that change is linked to higher cancer risk.

Your genetic counselor can talk with you about the testing and your personal risk for cancer to help you make an informed decision. Sometimes, extra cancer screening is recommended because of your family’s history of cancer or genetic results.

The cost depends on several factors including your insurance, the reason for the testing and which test is ordered. Most labs will talk with your insurance company as part of the testing process.

If needed, the lab will contact you to talk about payment options. Your genetic counselor will talk with you about the costs and what your insurance is likely to cover. You always have the right to turn down testing.

Many genetic testing labs offer lower cost or free testing for people who don’t have insurance. If needed, your genetic counselor can help you with this process.