Genetic Counseling & Testing Program

Our Cancer Genetics Program helps identify individuals at risk of hereditary cancers and provides counseling and support about possible risk-reducing options.

Our comprehensive program follows guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, National Society of Genetic Counselors and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. We offer genetic counseling, risk assessment, testing, information on risk-reducing options and assistance with accessing specialty care services.

When you hear the word cancer, there’s a whole range of emotions that washes over you – shock, anger, fear.

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About Genetics and Cancer

Genetic counselors have advanced training in medical genetics and counseling. They guide and support patients seeking more information about things like:

  • How personal and family risk factors may impact chances of developing cancer.
  • Which genetic tests may or may not be right for them, and what those tests may or may not tell.
  • How to make the most informed choices about known genetic risk profiles.

Certain types of cancer can have a hereditary link, meaning you can inherit and possibly pass on a risk for cancer. The genetic counselor can assess your personal and family history to determine the likelihood of a hereditary syndrome being present. With genetic testing in the context of counseling, more informed choices can be made regarding management of cancer risk.

It’s important to note that approximately 5-10% of cancer has a hereditary basis, which means most cancer is NOT caused by a single inherited mutation. Additionally, people can carry a mutation for cancer risk and never develop cancer.

The Program

Genetic Counseling

Patients meet with a certified genetic counselor who will gather the patient's medical and family history, focusing on types of cancer and ages at diagnosis. The counselor will discuss concerns, and will ensure that patients understand all possibilities concerning results prior to any testing. If a patient has genetic testing, the counselor will explain how to understand the test results and what those results may mean for the patient and family members.

What Genetic Testing Involves

Genetic testing looks for mutations/alterations in genes, which may increase the risk for certain cancers. Testing starts with collecting a blood or saliva sample from the patient. DNA from the sample is studied for mutations that can increase cancer risk.

Risk-Reducing Options

If test results indicate a genetic mutation that increases cancer risk, the genetic counselor will present risk-reducing options for the patient to discuss with his or her healthcare providers.Some examples include:

Earlier/More Frequent Screening: Patients who learn they are at higher risk for breast cancer might choose to begin having mammograms when they are younger, or have more advanced screening tests, such as a breast MRI. Patients who learn they are at higher risk for colon cancer might begin getting colonoscopy screening at an earlier age and more frequently. Patients at higher risk for prostate cancer can be regularly screened with a blood test for prostate specific antigen (PSA) at an earlier age.

Lifestyle Changes: Patients who discover an increased risk for cancer might be encouraged to quit smoking, drink less alcohol, eat healthier foods and exercise more. All of these changes can decrease cancer risks.


Potential Candidates

Individuals who had cancer at a young age, or have had two or more cancers, such as breast, ovarian or colon, or a family history of certain cancers, may benefit from meeting with a genetic counselor in the program. The program follows guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the National Society of Genetic Counselors and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.


A referral is required for genetic counseling and testing. Insurance typically covers the cost of testing for those patients who meet criteria, which the genetic counselor will determine at the visit.

Our Genetic Counseling & Testing Program Locations:

Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute