Genetic Testing & Counseling

If you have a family history of cancer, genetic diseases, or medical disorders and are concerned about your risk of developing these medical conditions or passing them to your children, turn to Essentia Health.

Our genetic counselor will work with you and your family to provide education, guidance, and support. This service is available in Duluth, Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota.

What’s a Genetic Counselor?

Genetic counselors work with patients and their families to discuss risk factors and test for genetic diseases and disorders that may be passed down through a person’s bloodline.

When to See a Genetic Counselor

Ask your doctor for a referral to an Essentia genetic counselor if:

  • You have a close relative with a hereditary cancer, such as breast, ovarian, or colon cancer
  • You’re pregnant and an ultrasound showed something unusual or you have a high-risk pregnancy

Cancer Genetic Counseling

In advance of your cancer genetic counseling session, you’ll be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your relatives’ medical history. Your genetic counselor will use this information to determine whether you or another relative may benefit from genetic testing.

Prenatal Genetic Testing

During prenatal genetic counseling, you’ll learn what genetic tests might benefit a woman of your age, medical history, and family history. Ask about a simple first-trimester genetic screening that measures the risk of Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities.

Your genetic counselor may also talk with you about drugs, chemicals, or infections that affect a fetus’ development. You can use this information to protect your unborn baby’s health.

What is Genetic Testing?

Genetic testing is a type of medical test that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine your risk of developing or passing on a genetic disorder

If you choose to seek genetic testing, we’ll help you determine the test that's right for you and send a sample of your blood or other body fluids to a lab. Once your results are in, we'll review them with you, address any concerns you may have, and provide emotional support if necessary.

Our genetic counselors offer easy-to-understand information and will work with you to create a preventative plan that outlines the positive steps you can take to address risk factors you can control.

Medical Insight: Genetic Counseling – Essentia Health Video Transcript

The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Medical Insights. Tracy Briggs, Essentia Health Medical Insight Host.

TRACY BRIGGS: If you could know that one day you would develop the symptoms of a hereditary disease, would you want to know? A genetic counselor and genetic testing are there to help.

Cathleen McCann, Essentia Health Genetic Counselor.

CATHLEEN MCCANN: Genetic counseling is a process that involves interviewing a patient. And in most cases, the patient is the entire family.

Cathleen sits at a table with Tracy. Tracy jots down notes.

We try to help diagnose different conditions that may have a hereditary component so that we can allow the patients to be able to get the proper services, know what works and what doesn't work so they can understand, what's the natural course of the condition? TRACY BRIGGS: Genetic testing can be done for a variety of reasons, such as diagnosing a disorder, predicting genetic risk for developing a medical issue, or determining if you carry a gene for a medical concern. McCann's job is to give the patient enough information to make an informed decision. CATHLEEN MCCANN: I'm not really there to tell them that they need to test or not to test. If you decide you're not ready, I'm going to say, OK, just let's think about it a little bit. You're welcome to come back and touch base with me. Let's make sure that you're sure this is something you want to do. TRACY BRIGGS: If you undergo genetic testing, McCann is there to help explain the results. CATHLEEN MCCANN: I can help you understand what the test results mean and maybe give you a little bit of relief, take away some of your fear.

A lab tech extracts a red substance from a tube to be evaluated under a microscope.

TRACY BRIGGS: A genetic counselor might also talk about non-medical concerns. CATHLEEN MCCANN: Talk about things like, how are your finances going to be impacted? How long are you going to be able to work? When do you tell the people at work? TRACY BRIGGS: McCann counsels people prior to testing for prenatal, neurological, and certain connective-tissue disorders. Other common hereditary concerns that can be screened for are cancer, Alzheimer's disease, inherited clotting problems, and many more. With this Essentia Health Medical Insight, I'm Tracy Briggs.

The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Medical Insight.

Benefits of Genetic Testing

Genetic testing can be done to:

  • Diagnose a disorder, disease, or condition
  • Predict genetic risk for developing a medical issue
  • Determine if you carry a gene for a medical concern you will not develop but may pass to your children
  • Assist in determining the most effective medication and dosage for you
  • Assess genetic risks for couples conceiving through in vitro fertilization Diagnose whether an unborn child will have a genetic disorder or disease
  • Evaluate babies for genetic conditions and begin treatment immediately

What Common Conditions Can be Tested for?

Common hereditary diseases, disorders, or conditions that can be screened for using genetic testing include:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Huntington disease
  • Muscular dystrophies
  • Inherited clotting problems
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Thalassemias
  • Anemias

Ask for a Referral

You’ll need a referral from your primary care provider or a specialist for this service.

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