I have been a cancer genetic counselor for 10 years and am also a proud native Bostonian. I completed my undergrad degree at Brandeis University, and, even though I am no longer living in the area, I still feel very much a part of the Boston Jewish community. I also serve the greater Jewish community, as many of my patients have Jewish backgrounds.
In my role as a genetic counselor, I’ve counseled patients about their cancer risks and guided them through the genetic testing process. I help them decide if genetic testing is right for them and explain how their test results might impact their physical and mental health. We discuss next steps and how to use this information to empower their health and their lives. We talk through their emotions and fears, and sometimes discuss how religion and medical ethics might play a role in their testing decision. Sometimes we just sit in silence. Every patient’s journey is unique, and their feelings are complex.
I have found that the Jewish community places a strong value on the importance of preventative health. I have seen that many community members are aware that genetic information can be a powerful tool in treating, screening for and preventing cancer. However, I have also seen that many people do not have easy access to genetic counseling and testing and some are unaware of how this information may contribute to their care.
Our goal at JScreen, a national nonprofit based out of Emory University, is to make genetic education and screening accessible. JScreen’s CancerGEN test analyzes BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and over 60 other genes to provide valuable information about hereditary cancer risk. Testing is done from the comfort of one’s own home (using a saliva kit) and results are provided by a genetic counselor via telehealth. Our testing panel is affordable and is available to all individuals regardless of background, cancer history or insurance coverage. We accept all U.S. insurances and financial assistance is available to those who need it.
Essentially, our goal is to get genetic testing into the hands of everyone who needs or wants it in an affordable and responsible way. This means medical-grade testing and access to genetic counselors who can appropriately interpret and counsel about the results. I don’t recommend that people rely on “direct to consumer” testing, as these have shown to have inaccuracies, are insufficient as diagnostic tests and results are delivered without context. All genetic tests are not created equal, and just getting the information itself is not enough.
I have come to appreciate that the genetic testing experience can be stressful and results can be unexpected and overwhelming. This is why I strongly urge anyone who is considering genetic testing to do it under the guidance and supervision of a trained expert in genetics and counseling. JScreen makes that easy. Genetic counselors are there to support you and help you sort through your results and emotions. At JScreen, our counselors review every case before testing is ordered. When the results are ready, we disclose results over the phone or by secure video. We will review the implications for you and your family and will be sensitive to any cultural and family complexities. We periodically check in with you to see how things are going and make appropriate referrals and recommendations for you and your family. We are there every step of the way.
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