Genetic Counseling and Testing

What to know

  • Genetic counseling is recommended before and after a genetic test.
a young women talking to a genetic counselor


The United States Preventive Services Task Force, a group of health experts, recommends that women with specific patterns of breast, ovarian, tubal, or peritoneal cancer in their family history consider genetic counseling and testing for BRCA gene mutations.

Genetic counseling

Genetic counseling, from a health care provider trained in this specialty, is recommended before and after a genetic test. A genetic counselor usually will assess your risk based on your personal and family medical history. He or she will then talk to you about things like:

  • If a genetic test is right for you.
  • The specific tests that might be used and the accuracy of these tests.
  • What happens if you have a positive or a negative test result.
  • The possibility that a test result might not give you all the information you need.
  • The emotional risks and benefits of genetic test results.
  • How genetic test results may affect other members of your family.

Early Onset Breast Cancer: Talking to Your Doctor and Genetic Counseling

This video offers tips on how to start a conversation with your health care provider about breast cancer risk. Learn how a genetic counselor can help you assess and understand your risk if you have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer.

Genetic testing

Genetic testing is done with a blood or saliva sample. The sample is taken in a laboratory, doctor's office, hospital, or clinic and sent to a laboratory that does the tests. It usually takes several weeks or longer to get the test results. Genetic testing can be helpful regardless of the result, but is most informative if a family member affected by cancer is tested first, if possible.

  • If you are tested for a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation that runs in your family, a negative BRCA1 or BRCA2 test result may give you a sense of relief, since special screening, tests, or surgeries may not be needed. However, even if you test negative for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, you can still get breast or ovarian cancer. A genetics counselor can help you understand if you need further tests.
  • A positive BRCA1 or BRCA2 test result helps you better understand your personal risk of getting breast and ovarian cancers. You can make choices about what to do to reduce your risk and about what screening is right for you. A positive test result does not mean you will definitely get breast or ovarian cancer, but it can help you and your provider make a plan to manage your risk.

Other genes are also associated with breast cancer. Some newer genetic tests will test for a panel of genes. Genetic counseling is important to understand the benefits and risks of getting tested for the panel of genes.

Lisa: My Experience With BRCA Counseling and Testing

Lisa, age 41, talks about how her family history led her to get genetic counseling and testing for BRCA gene mutations. In this video, she describes the genetic testing experience and explains how it helped her understand her family history and manage her risk for breast cancer.