Genetic Counseling and Preventative Surgery

By: Coach Kristine   By studying your genes, genetic counselors can determine if you are at risk to develop a certain disease or condition. There are now thousands of genetic disorders that can be tested for. According to, genetic testing has taken off in the past 10 years, because the Supreme Court decided that genes could not be patented. This allowed room for many companies to produce genetic tests, and the competition has made the testing process more affordable.   Those who carry a mutated BRCA gene are at risk to develop cancer. You may have recently heard that Angelina Jolie had a preventative double mastectomy when she found out that she was at risk for developing breast cancer. Preventative surgeries are starting to become more commonplace.   According to, Erika Stallings, a 22-year-old from the D.C. area, found out that her mother tested positive for the mutated BRCA2 gene, and Erika had a 50% chance of inheriting the same gene. However, Erika waited until her late 20s to be tested. When she tested positive, she decided to have a preventative double mastectomy since she was at risk for developing breast cancer.   Genetic counselors assess individual or family risk for a variety of inherited conditions including genetic disorders and birth defects. They help people choose appropriate genetic tests based on family history. They counsel patients before testing, review the tests, and discuss gray areas with patients after testing. They facilitate decisions regarding predisposition to disease. They also screen and counsel patients in clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies.   Students who are interested in this career should be comfortable with the ethical implications. For example, amniotic fluid can now be tested to discover risk factors that could affect fetuses. People then make decisions about the pregnancy based on the results of these tests. Also, genetic counselors are advising those who have the possibility of developing breast cancer or another disease whether they should have surgery or not. These types of decisions have ethical implications as well as an emotional impact. Students interested in this career should also be skilled at science, working with people, communicating, problem solving, and have empathy and tact.   Although genetic counseling is a small field, there is currently a shortage of genetic counselors because the career is growing rapidly at a rate of 29%. The average annual salary for genetic counselors is about $72,000. If you are interested in genetic counseling, you should earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, genetics, nursing, psychology, public health, or social work. Then you should pursue a master’s degree in genetic counseling and pass the American Board of Genetic Counseling’s certification exam.   Feel free to contact your coaches if you have any questions about your career options. We’re here to help!