At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC), we know the ins and outs of genetic testing can sometimes be hard to understand. In this section, we hope to address some important questions so you can feel more confident in your decision to participate in genetic testing. Please keep reading to learn more about genetic testing. 

What is Genetic Testing? 

Genetic testing for cancer looks for specific inherited changes (mutations) in a person’s genes that are associated with a high-to-moderate increased risk of cancer. The decision to have genetic testing is a personal choice that can be determined during or after a genetic counseling appointment. 

What is Genetic Counseling? 

Genetic counseling provides information and support about genetics and inherited conditions to people who have, or maybe at risk for, genetic disorders. Genetic counseling is generally recommended before any genetic testing for hereditary cancer syndrome. 

What are Genetic Counselors? 

Genetic counselors are health professionals who are experienced in cancer genetics and counseling. Their goal is to help you understand the genetic testing process as well as how genetic conditions can affect a family both medically and emotionally. 

What Should I Expect During My First Visit to a Genetic Counselor?

During your first visit, the genetic counselor will review your family’s medical history and help you understand the role of genes in causing hereditary cancers. Your visit may also cover recommendations for preventive care and screening. Based on the information you provide, a cancer risk assessment will be performed. If eligible, you will be given information about research programs at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers. 

Your genetic counselor will then discuss any genetic testing that could be beneficial as well as what to expect in regards to the testing process. If genetic testing is indicated and you provide informed consent for the recommended test, a saliva sample can be collected via a kit mailed to your home or an in-clinic visit blood draw. Results are discussed in person approximately 2-4 weeks following the initial appointment. Telehealth visits are available via Zoom, Facetime, or Doximity.

How Do I Know If I’m A Candidate For Genetic Counseling Or Testing?

If your doctor referred you for genetic counseling, it is likely you are a good candidate for genetic testing. Good candidates are those who have been diagnosed with cancer, have a personal history of cancer, and/or have a family history of cancer. If genetic testing has been recommended for you, we encourage you to meet with a Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers genetic counselor. Cancer genetic counselors can determine whether or not genetic testing would be helpful for you and your family.

About 5-10% of cancers are hereditary meaning that a mutation in a gene leads to an increased risk for certain cancers. When families have a hereditary predisposition to cancer, we typically see:

  • Early-onset cancers, such as breast cancer before age 50
  • Rare cancers, such as ovarian cancer or pancreatic cancer 
  • Multiple primary cancers in one person
  • Multiple generations affected

What Do I Do With The Results of Genetic Testing?

Identifying specific gene mutations can help to clarify the type of cancers you may be more susceptible to and the level of risk to develop these cancers. The ultimate goal of genetic counseling and/or testing is to create an individualized medical management plan intended to prevent cancer or detect cancer as early as possible if cancer develops.

Management recommendations may be advised based on genetic test results as well as a family history of cancer. Recommendations could include:

  • Close surveillance (screening/exams)
  • Risk-reducing surgery
  • Risk-reducing medications

Additionally, family members may be advised to consider genetic testing or pursue increased surveillance as well.

Will Insurance Pay For Genetic Testing?

Your cancer genetic counselor can help determine if you are a good candidate for testing and if you meet your insurance criteria for testing. Typically, if you decide to pursue testing, your sample, personal and family history information, and insurance card(s) are sent to the testing laboratory in order for them to complete an insurance benefits investigation. The laboratory will then contact you to let you know your expected out of pocket cost and give you the opportunity to cancel testing for financial reasons.

Self-pay options are also available.

Will Genetic Testing Affect My Insurability?

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008 prohibits discrimination in health insurance coverage and employment-based upon genetic information (with the exception in companies with 15 or fewer employees). Colorado State laws protect the privacy of genetic information and prohibit individuals from being denied health insurance, group disability insurance, or long-term care insurance based on genetic information. No federal or state laws in Colorado have protections regarding life insurance. For more information, visit the National Human Genome Research Institute website.

Is Genetic Testing Painful?

The test is non-invasive. It’s done through a blood or saliva sample.

What Information Does Genetic Testing Provide?

The purpose of genetic testing for cancer is to look for genetic mutations or genetic abnormalities in your genes. A positive result means the laboratory found an inherited change in a gene that is associated with a greater risk of developing cancer. A positive result does not mean cancer was detected or that you will develop cancer, just that you are at a higher risk than average.

If Results Are Negative For Genetic Abnormalities, Does That Mean I Have No Cancer Risk?

No. Only a small percentage of cancers are linked to genetic abnormalities, so interpreting a negative result is just as important as a positive result. That’s why we always follow up with a genetic counselor regardless of the result. We don’t want to give people a false sense of security so they don’t get recommended cancer screenings.