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Cancer Genetics Risk Assessment and Counseling (PDQ®): Genetics - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Cancer Risk Assessment and Counseling


Cancer Risk Assessment Counseling

The scope of genetic counseling practice has expanded over the past several years to address risk assessment and genetic testing for hereditary cancer predisposition. Cancer risk assessment counseling has emerged as a specialized practice that requires knowledge of genetics, oncology, and individual and family counseling skills that may be provided by health care providers with this interdisciplinary training.[25,26] Some centers providing cancer risk assessment services involve a multidisciplinary team, which may include a genetic counselor; a genetics advanced practice nurse; a medical geneticist or a physician, such as an oncologist, surgeon, or internist; and a mental health professional. The Cancer Genetics Services Directory provides a partial list of individuals involved in cancer risk assessment, genetic counseling, testing, and other related services and is available on the National Cancer Institute's Web site.

The need for advanced professional training in cancer genetics for genetics counselors, physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, and others has been widely reported.[27,28,29,30,31] Despite these identified needs, the evidence indicates that competency in genetics and genomics remains limited across all health care disciplines with the exception of genetic specialists.[32] Knowledge deficits in hereditary cancer syndromes and concerns about genetic discrimination influence provider referral patterns for genetic counseling. Results of a survey of 1,600 providers in California showed that a majority were unable to identify cases appropriate for referral and were unaware of existing federal and state protective laws.[33] In a single-institution study, a retrospective chart review was conducted over a 10-year period to determine the genetic counseling referral rate for patients with ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancers who were also at high risk of BRCA1/BRCA2 mutations. Results showed that referral rates increased from 12% in 1997 to 48% in 2007; however, the latter referral rate was deemed suboptimal because the majority of at-risk patients had not been referred for counseling.[34]

The National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics (NCHPEG) was established in 1996 to enhance the level of general professional education about genetics. NCHPEG has published and updated core competencies for all health professionals. Building on this work, individual health professions, such as nursing and physician assistants, have developed and published core competencies specific to their profession.[35,36] A number of other organizations have also published professional guidelines, scopes, and standards of practice.[37,38,39,40,41,42]

Traditionally, genetic counseling services have been delivered using individualized in-person appointments. However, other methodologies are being explored, including group sessions, telephone counseling, and telemedicine by videoconferencing.[43,44,45,46,47,48,49] Additionally, computer programs designed to provide genetics education can be successful adjuncts to personal genetic counseling services in a computer-literate population.[50,51,52,53]


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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