Genetic counselling

At a genetic consultation, you can discuss your situation with someone trained in genetics. They will listen to your concerns and advise you on your risk of developing cancer. At the meeting, the genetics specialist will draw up a family tree of your close relatives and their illnesses. They will use this information to assess your risk of developing cancer.

Your genetic consultant or counsellor will talk to you about managing your risk of cancer. This may include having screening or genetic testing.

It might help to write down some questions before the meeting. You may want to ask questions such as:

  • What is my risk of getting a particular cancer?
  • How sure are you about my risk?
  • Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk?
  • Who else might be at risk in my family?
  • When and how should I tell my children?
  • What if I want a test or screening but it is not offered to me?

Your genetic consultation

When you go to the genetics clinic you will meet a genetics specialist.

The meeting will last between 30–60 minutes. The genetics specialist will draw up a simple family tree. It will show all your close blood relatives and their illnesses.

The genetics specialist will use this to assess your risk of developing cancer.

You’ll be able to discuss whether a genetic test might be appropriate for you. They will also explain the benefits and limitations of genetic testing.

You will have the chance to talk about ways of managing your risk. This will include information about screening and risk-reducing treatments.

We have a video of a genetic counsellor. In it she explains genetic counselling and the issues around genetics and cancer.

Example of a family tree for a family with suspected ‘cancer gene’.
Example of a family tree for a family with suspected ‘cancer gene’.

View a large version

Read a description of this image


Getting the most out of your consultation

It’s a good idea to write down your questions before the consultation. This will help you remember what you want to ask. Here are some suggestions of questions you may want to ask:

  • What is my risk of getting a particular cancer?
  • How sure are you about my risk?
  • Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk?
  • Who else might be at risk in my family?
  • Do I need to tell anyone in my family?
  • When and how should I tell my children?
  • If I’m not at high risk of getting cancer, will I get any follow-up?
  • What if I want a test or screening but it is not offered to me?
  • Do I have to tell insurance companies about my family history or genetic tests?

It may be helpful to bring someone with you to the consultation such as your partner, if you have one, or a relative or friend. You can share your thoughts afterwards.

If there is something you don’t understand, tell your genetics specialist so they can explain. You can also see them again if you have more questions later on. You will usually get a letter after the meeting covering all the important points.

Genetic counselling

Genetic Counsellor Kelly Kohut explains genetic counselling and the issues surrounding genetics and cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Genetic counselling

Genetic Counsellor Kelly Kohut explains genetic counselling and the issues surrounding genetics and cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Back to Genetic testing and counselling

Inherited cancers

If a cancer occurs more often in a family than in the general population, some people in the family may have inherited a cancer susceptibility gene.

OPERA tool

OPERA is an online information tool for people concerned about their inherited risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer.