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Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Ascension Wisconsin’s Cancer Prevention and Wellness Program assists people with an overall risk assessment through genetic counseling. Genetic counseling can identify if you have a higher risk of a variety of hereditary conditions or illnesses, including specific types of cancer.

Genetic counseling: First steps

When you first connect with a genetic counselor, they will typically ask questions about your own health history, and draw your family tree, collecting as much information as they can about cancer diagnoses from both the maternal and paternal sides. From there, the recommendations are personalized and vary between patients.

Based on the findings, a genetic counselor could advise the patient to receive either genetic testing, additional or early screenings, or a combination. For example, someone who is determined to have a higher risk for breast cancer could start receiving mammograms at a younger age; someone determined to have a higher risk for colon cancer could receive more frequent colonoscopies.

If you are interested in learning more about cancer prevention and genetic testing, including for hereditary female cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer, ask your doctor about a referral to a genetic counselor or the Cancer Prevention and Wellness clinic.

Making decisions

Integrating genetic test results and screenings can help either prevent cancer, or detect cancer at an early stage, when it’s most treatable. Physicians want patients to know and understand their options and be proactive about prioritizing their health. Genetic counseling can make that information accessible and help patients take better care of their health and understand their family health history.

Someone may schedule an appointment for genetic counseling if:

  • They have a personal history of cancer and want to learn if there could be an underlying genetic cause
  • They have a family history of cancer and want to learn what their risks are
  • They have a genetic predisposition to cancer within their family, and they’d like to be tested to see if they are at an increased risk

The decision for genetic testing is always the patient’s choice. If genetic testing would heighten anxiety and adversely affect a patient’s daily life, counselors may suggest alternative preventative measures. The goal is to always help the patient make the decision that’s best for them.

genetic counseling
Based on your consultation, a genetic counselor could advise you to receive either genetic testing, additional or early cancer screenings, or a combination of both.

Next steps

If you’d like to know more about genetic counseling or have questions, talk to your primary care physician or gynecologist about cancer screening and early detection. Physicians will connect their patients to whichever resource is in their best interest. Knowledge is power, and if there’s an increased risk of cancer, physicians and specialists can use those screenings to detect it early for the best possible outcome.

Watch this video to learn more about genetic counseling and the Ascension Wisconsin Cancer Prevention and Wellness Program, or to schedule an appointment, please call 262-785-2273. To learn more about Ascension Wisconsin’s cancer programs and find a specialist please visit

Kelley Boster, MS, CGC, is an Oncology Genetic Counselor with Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin. – Credit: Ascension Medical Group

Kelley Boster, MS, CGC is an Oncology Genetic Counselor with Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin. She sees patients at Ascension All Saints Hospital in Racine and the Reiman Cancer Center in Franklin. She also offers virtual or telephone appointments. To schedule an appointment at either location, call 262-785-2273.

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