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Genetic testing for cancer: FAQ from Gwinnett Medical Center

With the recent publicity about celebrity Angelina Jolie dealing with her hereditary cancer risk by undergoing surgery, discussion of genetic testing for cancer has been in the news. While there’s lots of information and misinformation around this issue, here are some facts and frequently asked questions from Gwinnett Medical Center:

Genetic counseling and testing can help you better understand your personal risk of developing cancer.

Who might consider genetic testing for cancer?

“Anyone with a personal or strong family history of breast, ovarian, colorectal or endometrial cancer may benefit from genetic counseling and testing services,” says Cindy Snyder, DNP, APNG, FNP-C, a family nurse practitioner and advanced practice nurse in genetics who specializes in cancer risk assessment at GMC. “These counseling and testing services help you better understand your personal risk of developing cancer.”

What do genes have to do with cancer?
Cancer results from changes in a person’s genes that usually occur over many years. While lifestyle factors such as tobacco and alcohol use may contribute to some of these changes, abnormal genes that are passed from generation to generation may also contribute to the development of cancer.

What percentage of all cancers are inherited?
“It’s important to remember,” says Snyder, “that only five to 10 percent of all cancers are caused by inherited genetic mutations, and not everyone who carries them will develop cancer.”

What is involved in the counseling process?
• A detailed review of your family history
• An assessment of cancer risks for you and your family
• A discussion of the pros and cons of genetic testing
• Supportive counseling to help you make the best decision for you and your family

How is genetic testing done?
A sample of cells from the inside of your mouth or blood is taken and sent to a laboratory where technicians look for specific changes in the DNA. Test results are then provided in writing to your healthcare provider.

Will my information be protected?
“Yes,” says Snyder. “Federal and state laws prohibit the use of genetic information as a pre-existing condition.”

Will insurance pay for the cost of these services?
Check with your insurance or managed care company to find out if prevention services are covered under your plan.

What do I do if I find out I’m at high risk of cancer?

Gwinnett Medical Center offers a High Risk Clinic with services to develop an individualized plan for prevention and early detection of cancer. “We appreciate the concerns involved with genetic testing,” says Snyder, “and will work with you to help you make informed decisions.”

What else should I know?
“There are many issues to consider when deciding if genetic counseling and testing are right for you,” says Snyder. “We begin with an hour-long consultation, and then if you choose to have genetic testing, a follow-up appointment is set to discuss the results.” 

To learn more about genetic counseling and testing, call 678-312-3235 to speak with GMC’s cancer genetic specialist.
For more information on GMC visit