Research Story Tip: Johns Hopkins Medicine Celebrates Genetic Counselor Awareness Day on Nov. 12


Genetic counselor awareness day
This graphic shows a chromosome (X-shaped body at left) and the double-helix DNA strand it contains. Nov. 12 is Genetic Counselor Awareness Day, honoring the health care specialists who provide individuals and families with genetic health education, advice and strategy planning. Credit: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

Genetic counselors are a special group of health care workers dedicated to helping patients and their families with genetic health education, advice and strategy planning. They provide medical and emotional support in a number of specialty areas — such as pediatrics, prenatal care and personalized medicine — and for medical conditions, including sickle cell anemia, obesity and cancer.

Genetic Counselor Awareness Day is Nov. 12, and Johns Hopkins Medicine is marking the occasion by helping the public become familiar with what genetic counselors do and how they can help.

Here are 10 facts that everyone should know about genetic counseling and genetic health:

  1. Genetic counselors can help you understand inherited conditions that could affect your health, the best options for genetic testing, and how your medical and family history can guide your health plans.
  2. Genetic counselors serve in many places, including direct patient care settings, research facilities, public policy institutions, patient advocacy organizations and medical education groups.
  3. Consider seeing a genetic counselor if:
  • You or a family member have a birth defect, inherited condition or learning problem,
  • You are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, and want to learn more about prenatal screening, had an unexpected ultrasound finding or experienced a miscarriage,
  • More than one relative on the same side of the family has had cancer before age 50 or were diagnosed with a rare cancer type.
  1. A genetic counselor can use your family history information to help determine if you might be at risk for hereditary conditions and, if so, what medical care your doctor should recommend to deal with them.
  1. Counselors can help record your family’s genetic history and make sure it includes as many blood relatives as possible, including siblings, half-siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, children and grandchildren.
  1. As part of recording your family genetic history, the counselors will ensure that it includes a list of each health condition diagnosed in a blood relative, the age at which they were first diagnosed, any genetic tests or specialized treatments that relatives received, and the ethnicity of each person with a health condition on both sides of your family.
  1. Your recorded genetic history also should list all deaths of blood relatives, including the causes and age at which they died.
  1. Remember that it’s fine if your family genetic history is not complete. Consider using upcoming family gatherings and celebrations to add to the information.
  1. When you are done recording your family history, keep the information in a safe place and be sure to share it with relatives and doctors.
  1. If you have used over-the-counter genetic testing kits, genetic counselors can help you understand the results.

    Want to learn more about genetic counseling? Our genetic counselors will answer your questions during a live Twitter chat on Nov. 12, 2020, from 2 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on @HopkinsMedNews. Tweet your questions using the hashtag #GCADatHopkins or send a direct message to @HopkinsMedNews.