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Oncology Genetic Counseling

Who are genetic counselors?

Genetic counselors are individuals specifically trained to help patients understand and adapt to the personal and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease. The Women's Cancer Center is home to the only Genetic Counselor in the region.

Genetic Counselor, Heather Marin, MS, LCGC, obtained her Master’s degree through the credentialed Genetic Counseling Program at Indiana University in 2003 and her board certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling in 2005. Learn more about Heather.

What is the role of an oncology genetic counselor?

Genetic Counselors review a person’s medical and family histories, explain the basics of cancer genetics and provide information about potential cancer risk. They are knowledgeable about the status of testing for genes associated with hereditary cancers and whether genetic testing is an appropriate option to consider.

What occurs during an oncology genetic counseling visit?

The initial patient visit will last approximately one to one-and-a half hours. The counselor will collect medical and family history information, provide a cancer risk assessment and discuss the option of genetic testing including risks, benefits and limitations in full detail. A follow-up consult may be scheduled to discuss results, recommended cancer screenings and other medical management.
Mother Daughter

How can genetic counselors help patients and their families?

Genetic counselors can give patients the personalized help they need when it comes to genetic health. They work with patients and health care providers to help make informed decisions about complicated genetic information and discuss the risks, benefits, and limitations of genetic testing. The counselor may help aid in obtaining a diagnosis and/or management plans based on medical or family histories or genetic testing results.

Who might benefit from meeting with an oncology genetic counselor?

Individuals with a personal and/or family history of:
  • Early-onset cancers, usually diagnosed before age 50
  • Cancer in two or more first-degree relatives on the same side of the family (maternal or paternal history)
  • Multiple primary tumors (more than one type of cancer in one individual)
  • Bilateral tumors (affecting, for example, both breasts or both ovaries)
  • A relative who is a known carrier of an inherited cancer gene change

Can patients have genetic counseling without genetic testing?

Yes. A patient can still learn information about personal and familial cancer risks in addition to suggested cancer screening surveillance. The risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing need to be carefully considered. A Genetic Counselor can help navigate this process.

Will insurance companies cover genetic testing?

Genetic testing can be expensive and may be covered in many circumstances. Medical and family histories are important factors that help determine coverage. Some insurance policies have exclusions regarding genetic testing and in this circumstance, testing will likely not be covered. Other insurance policies have additional criteria which need to be met prior to genetic testing. A Genetic Counselor will work with the testing lab to help determine coverage and financial assistance options.
GINA is the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act that was passed into federal law in 2008. GINA provides protection against discrimination from health and employment coverage based on genetic information. GINA’s protections do not extend to life insurance, disability insurance and long-term care insurance. GINA also does not mandate coverage for any particular test or treatment.

Scheduling an appointment

Health care providers can provide a referral for a consult with our certified and licensed oncology genetic counselor. To request more information, you may contact the Women’s Cancer Center at 812-842-2210.