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Fostering Resilience, Empowering with Knowledge: The Role of a Genetic Counselor

Read Time: 2 minutes
Whitney Espinel, CGC, MS

Updated November 2021
Originally Published March 2019

Whitney Espinel, CGC, MS, Genetic Counselor at Huntsman Cancer Institute
Whitney Espinel, CGC, MS, Genetic Counselor at Huntsman Cancer Institute

On a typical clinic day, I see between four and eight new patients. During the visit, we discuss family histories, genetic causes of cancer, appropriate cancer screenings, and genetic testing. We can help determine if genetic testing would provide helpful information about their cancer risks.

Genetic testing starts with providing a blood or saliva sample, that is then sent to a laboratory. The sample is tested for genetic mutations that increase odds of certain cancers. When results come back to Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), we encourage patients to meet with a genetic counselor.

Our knowledge of genetics is changing extremely quickly. We have gone from single-gene testing to multi-gene panel testing. We have expanded genetic testing to new types of cancers. We now have the ability to offer personalized screening, risk-reduction options, and even treatment to target specific genetic mutations.

Genetic Counselors Group Photo - October 2021
Genetic Counselors Group Photo - October 2021

Knowing family cancer history is also important. If more than one person in a family shares the same type of cancer, were diagnosed with a rare cancer, or were diagnosed at an early age, I recommend that they talk with a genetic counselor.

It's exciting to be a genetic counselor, especially here at HCI, where genetics play such a key role in so many aspects of patient care.

One of my favorite things about our genetic clinics at HCI is that we get to follow families over time. I love seeing how resilient patients are when faced with difficult information about cancer risks. It means a lot that patients and families trust us to help them through difficult conversations and to help them make important decisions about their health.

Infographic titled What is Genetic Testing? Steps include genetic counselor taking a sample, sample being tested for gene mutations, and test results being returned in 2-4 weeks

Genetic counselors also play a role in research. A team of researchers recently received a grant to study ways to identify patients who may benefit from genetic counseling and services. Read more about the study.

Cancer touches all of us.