Genetic Testing and Genetic Counseling: What is the Difference?

Answer by: Cristi Radford, MS, Certified Genetic Counselor at Sarasota Memorial Hospital

Genetic testing looks for changes in genes, chromosomes, or proteins. It is typically performed by drawing a tube of blood or collecting saliva. In some cases, it is performed on tumor tissue. Genetic counseling is a multi-faceted process. It is tailored to meet the clients needs and typically consists of one to two consults. Typically, a session includes the following components:

1) Drawing a pedigree, which is a family history chart containing health information for offspring, siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc..

2) Discussion of genetic testing options available (more than 200 hereditary cancer syndromes have been described to date) based on personal and / or family history

3) Discussion of medical management options available to help lower the risk of developing cancer, catch cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage, or prevent cancer from occurring at all. For example, often a women has a negative genetic test but still needs additional surveillance for breast cancer, such as breast MRI, based on her family history.

4) Providing support during the risk assessment process and linking individuals to resources based on their needs

Ive heard people saying they had genetic counseling at their doctors office. How does a person know they are seeing someone trained in genetics. What questions should they ask

Any healthcare provider can provider genetic counseling. However, only certain healthcare providers have obtained additional education and certification in genetics. A good comparison is a primary care doctor and a specialist. A primary care doctor can deliver a baby, treat skin conditions etc However, an Obstetrician specializes in taking care of pregnant women and a dermatologist specializes in skin care. It is important for consumers to know that in Florida any provider can call themselves a genetic counselor. However, only individuals with appropriate training can use the term Certified Genetic Counselor (CGC)

There are three main groups of professionals with advanced degrees and additional training in clinical genetics. These are:

Certified Genetic Counselors (CGCs).  A CGC has at-least a masters degree in genetic counseling and has passed a board examination.

Advanced Practice Nurse in Genetics (APNG). ( An APNG has graduated from a graduate nursing program, has clinical experience in genetics, and obtained continuing education in genetics.

Clinical Geneticists. Clinical geneticists are physicians specializing in medical genetics. They have completed a residency in genetics and passed a board examination.

Where can an individual find a provider in South Florida?

Two institutions employ individuals with training and certification in genetics, who focus on hereditary cancer syndromes:

Sarasota Memorial Health Care Systems Genetic Education Program: 941-917-2005

Moffitts Lifetime Cancer Screening Program:


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