Written by Carole Jakucs, BSN, RN, PHN
You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. So many questions arise.
You want to know why you got it. You also wonder: Is it genetic? Does
your family need to be concerned that they’ll get it too? Questions
like these can be answered by a licensed genetic counselor.
At Torrance Memorial Medical Center, genetic counseling services are offered
in the Hunt Cancer Institute. Lauren Rudichuk, MS, CGC (certified genetic
counselor), is educated in the science of genetics and provides the artful
skills of a counselor to advise her patients when a diagnosis of cancer
Rudichuk says that having a background in genetic science enables her to
provide comprehensive services to patients, such as taking their medical
history, mapping out family medical problems, collaborating with referring
and treating physicians, recommending the most appropriate genetic tests
for a newly diagnosed illness, or determining if a patient has a genetic
predisposition for developing a specific type of cancer in the future, she says.
“Family history is an important tool for genetic counseling. If a
patient is diagnosed at age 30 with breast cancer, it’s a red flag
that this could be a result of a genetic predisposition to cancer. This
information prompts the question: ‘Who else in my family might have
this gene mutation?’” says Rudichuk.
“Mutations in certain genes can lead to cancer. For example, mutations
in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can lead to a higher risk of breast and ovarian
cancer,” she explains. And determining which type of gene mutation
has occurred has treatment implications as well.
The other important function of a genetic counselor is to help patients
navigate through their diagnosis. “We guide patients through the
process, helping them understand their test results and providing psychosocial
support to patients and their families. Sometimes, we’ll refer patients
to support groups or a psychologist for additional support,” says Rudichuk.
How Genetic Testing Works
Specialized genetic testing can find high-risk people and stop them from
becoming cancer patients. We offer on-site testing and counseling. Our
service can assist your understanding of the test and its results, as
well as offer advice on how to lower the risk of cancer.
Prior to getting tested, you should talk to your doctor about:
- Your family history of cancer
- Your personal history of cancer
Counseling before the test can help you understand what the test result
will mean. It can also explain options that are available if the test
In some cases, patients seek testing before they are diagnosed with cancer.
If this is the case, tests will focus on the closest relative who has
been diagnosed. If this relative is not alive, the test can still offer