While your risk for hereditary heart disease is less common than that which develops from your physical and dietary habits, the threat is still worth your attention. Your family history is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to your overall health. Sarah Brandenberger, MS, CGC, certified genetics counselor, works with patients to assess their risk at the Parkview Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic. She answered our questions on this unique testing below.
Who should consider genetic counseling?
Our two focuses currently are cancer and cardiovascular genetic counseling. I would say anyone who has concerns about their family history could consider genetic counseling. Whether they have family members who have passed away at a young age (under 50) or developed disease such as cardiomyopathy or cancer young or if several family members have been diagnosed with the same cancer or heart problem.
What steps can be taken if a risk is identified?
One of our key goals is prevention of disease and early death. Personalized medicine is becoming a key part of healthcare. For example, general population screening – or a one-size-fits-all approach – just isn’t enough for many of the families we see. We want to make sure everyone has the best screening plans in place, whether that be colonoscopies at a younger age or having families get regular echocardiograms. Genetic test results may provide us with even more screening or surgery options that would not otherwise be available based on family history alone.
What do you hope patients will gain through this process?
Most of the people we see are the first people in their family to have genetic counseling and testing. We hope to provide information so people can make informed decisions about their risks. For some, this means getting genetic testing. For others, they just want to make sure they are doing all the best screening available and don’t want to have genetic testing. It can be a very personal choice.
I can say that I hope to change the course of disease for some of these families. For example, I had a family with at least four people who had died from colon cancer before 50. The session was amazing for my patient because I was able to teach her how preventable colon cancer could be if she were to start screening younger and more often, should she carry the genetic mutation that was running in her family. Sometimes genetic testing can open a door to better preventive options and end the pattern of losing family members so young.
What’s involved in the testing?
Either a blood draw with a small, single tube of blood or a saliva sample.
About how long does it take to get the results?
On average, 3 weeks. We can get some tests back as fast as 7 – 10 days.
Is this type of testing expensive?
One of the benefits of going through a genetic counselor is that we are the experts in determining the best test options. For some patients, they need a fast turn around time. For others, they want the lowest possible costs. There are also things some people may not want to know from a genetic test. There are many choices out there today and we assist our patients in finding the best test for them and their family. We also work with insurance companies and will let patients know how much they will owe prior to having their testing. Most of our patients pay $100 or less for their testing. Even if insurance will not cover a test, we still have other affordable options.
For more on the Parkview Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic, call (260) 266-5680.