What to Expect at Your First Cancer Genetics Appointment


If you are a new patient to the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Program you can expect that your first visit will be with a genetic counselor. A genetic counselor is a health professional with graduate training in medical genetics and counseling. All genetic counselors at BIDMC are board certified and licensed by the State of Massachusetts. The genetic counselor will take time to go over your family and medical history information. They will perform a formal risk assessment for hereditary cancer syndromes and may offer genetic testing. The decision to undergo genetic testing is personal and is always considered optional. Even if you have decided not to pursue genetic testing, this initial appointment is a good opportunity to gather information and ask questions.

Your first visit will be scheduled for 90 minutes. During the first hour, the genetic counselor will review your family and medical history, assess your family’s risk for hereditary cancer, and discuss information about hereditary cancer and genetic testing options. You will have time to ask questions about the testing process, insurance coverage, insurance discrimination concerns, etc. Thirty minutes are set aside at the end of the session for the counselor facilitate the genetic testing process (paperwork and blood draw), if you decide to proceed with genetic testing at your initial visit.

It is very important that you fill out the family and medical history surveys before your appointment. We ask that you submit this information at least 2 weeks prior to your scheduled appointment. This allows the genetic counselors time to put together a family tree and prepare for your visit. You will receive this paperwork prior to your scheduled appointment.

Helpful tips in filling out family history survey:

  • Include all family members regardless of whether or not they are affected with cancer
  • It is very important to have an accurate primary cancer diagnosis for your family members. Sometimes you will need to obtain pathology records or other medical records to confirm a diagnosis. A death certificate is public record and may also be helpful if medical records are unavailable. For more information about obtaining a death certificate, click here .
  • If any of your family members have had genetic testing please include a copy of their test report.