What Is Genetic Counseling?

Ilana Soloman with Precision Medicine study participant
Ilana Solomon, M.A., Sc.M., CGC, manager, Center for Precision Medicine


Genetic counseling can help you understand your risk and your family’s risk of developing cancer. It will also answer any questions or concerns about how genetic testing can clarify cancer risk. A genetic counseling appointment aims to provide relevant information about your genetic risk factors and support your decision on managing those risks best.

How to Prepare for Genetic Counseling

Gather as much information about your medical history and check with relatives beforehand. During your appointment, we will ask you detailed questions about your personal and family medical history, such as:

  • Your overall medical history, such as any major health problems you have had throughout your life
  • Details of your cancer diagnosis (if relevant), cancer screening such as mammograms or colonoscopies
  • Information about the results of our pathology from procedures or surgeries (such as pathology of tumors or polyps)
  • If you have had any risk-reducing procedures (such as having your uterus or ovaries removed)

We will also ask about your family members, such as:

  • What types of cancer have they had. This can include pathology and treatment
  • Their ages at diagnosis and, if applicable, cause of death
  • If they have had any risk-reducing procedures

Family History Questionnaire

If you are a City of Hope patient, you will receive an email inviting you to complete a family history questionnaire and sign up for City of Hope's Family History app via a unique URL. Please complete the questionnaire before your appointment, which may speed up the visit.

Guide to questionnaire app

Release of Information (ROI) Form

It may be helpful to request medical records from a family member. You can use an ROI form to get medical records from other hospitals or clinics. This form must be signed by either the individual or next of kin. Similarly, if a family member is a City of Hope patient, we can only discuss details of their case if they have provided us with written permission.

Download ROI form

What to Expect at a Genetic Counseling Appointment

When you meet with our genetics providers, your appointment can be with a genetic counselor, genetics physician, or both. We will discuss some basic genetic concepts and how our genetics can influence why some people develop cancer. Most genetics visits at City of Hope can occur as a televideo visit, but sometimes, an in-person appointment may be necessary. Appointments typically take about 45 to 60 minutes.

You may come to your genetic counseling appointment having already done genetic testing through the City of Hope Precision Medicine Program General Research Protocol (IRB# 07047). In this case, we will discuss your genetic testing results and what they mean for you and your family moving forward. Depending on the results from the genetic test, there may be cancer screening and management recommendations that our genetics physicians may make. These recommendations are personalized based on your genetic testing results and personal and family medical history.

An appointment may still benefit you if you have already received genetic testing but have yet to meet with a genetics provider to review your results formally.

If you have yet to have genetic testing, we will discuss if genetic testing is suitable for you and the available options. If you decide to undergo genetic testing, we will decide on a plan together to determine the next steps, including how many genes we will test, how the sample will be collected (blood or saliva), and how and when you will receive your genetic test results. If you decide that genetic testing is not something you want to pursue at that time, we can always revisit genetic testing for cancer risk at another date.

Request an Appointment

If you're interested in genetic counseling and testing or referring a patient, don't hesitate to reach out.

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