Benjamin D. Solomon leads the Medical Genomics Division at the Inova Translational Medicine Institute. He performs genome-based research to find the causes of patients’ genetic disorders and is also involved in the clinical care of patients with genetic conditions. He is board certified in clinical genetics and pediatrics. Read Dr. Solomon’s profile.
Last year, a woman in her 40s came to Inova for genetic testing. Her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29, and our patient wondered if she might have inherited genetic changes that increased her risk of breast cancer.
Before the test, she spoke to a genetic counselor about her family’s cancer history, and the counselor recommended a number of genetic tests. Turns out, the patient tested positive for a gene variant that, while associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, is also strongly linked to stomach cancer.
On the recommendation of her doctors, the patient elected to have her stomach removed. During the surgery, her surgeons discovered tumors already growing inside the stomach lining. The test saved her life.
While this patient’s results are extreme, her story illustrates what genetic counselors do every day. As genetic testing becomes more common, genetic counselors are playing an incredibly important role in helping patients and their families understand how their DNA impacts their health.
Genetic Testing Boom
Genetic testing has really exploded in the last few years. Many new tests have come on the market, and thanks to technological improvements, they’re more affordable and more accurate than ever.
As the tests have become more available and more popular, we’ve seen a huge increase in demand for genetic counselors. Genetic counselors are health professionals trained to help patients make decisions about genetic testing and prepare for and understand the test results. In some places, patients are waiting several months just to get an appointment.
Luckily, Inova has had wonderful foresight to realize that genetic counselors play a critical role in healthcare. We have a great team of genetic counselors and geneticists to meet the growing demand.
How Does Genetic Counseling Work?
Genetic counselors help patients understand the risks, benefits and limitations of genetic tests. Typically, counselors meet with patients before a genetic test to discuss medical and family history and determine which tests, if any, a patient should receive. After the test(s), the counselors help patients and their family interpret the results.
Often, the results of a genetic test aren’t black and white. A positive test might mean someone is at higher risk of developing a certain disease, but it’s not a given. Genetic counselors help patients make sense of the results and explore how different treatment options fit into their overall health goals.
Personalized Medicine At Its Best
I think of genetic counseling as an ideal example of personalized medicine. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to genetic testing. Two patients who have similar medical and family histories might have really different beliefs and desires. Genetic counselors help patients understand all the options and help them make medical decisions that are right for them.
Genomics is already transforming medicine and will continue to be an important piece of patient care. At the Inova Translational Medicine Institute, we’re proud to bring together teams of researchers, physicians, genetic counselors and other healthcare professionals to create an approach to medicine that is tailored to each patient. Learn more about our Cancer Genetic Counseling Program.