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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

Genetic Counselling

This post is about a topic close to my heart, Genetic Counselling (GC). It is more personal than some of my other posts because I am a recently qualified genetic counsellor.

What is GC? According to the World Health Organisation, GC is “the process through which knowledge about the genetic aspects of illnesses is shared by trained professionals with those who are at an increased risk or either having a heritable disorder or of passing it on to their unborn offspring.”

Who might need GC? People may seek or be referred for GC if they have or could be at risk for a genetic condition, could have a child with a genetic condition or are at risk of having a child with a genetic condition.

In the Western Cape, South Africa, women are at an increased risk of having a child with Down Syndrome if they are over 40 years old and are then referred for GC.

Similarly, a cancer genetics clinic at Groote Schuur hospital refers patients for GC that may have developed cancer due to an inherited cancer-predisposing gene. Predisposing means that the person has an increased chance of developing cancer; it does not guarantee it.

Where do genetic counsellors work? Traditionally genetic counsellors work in hospitals, but more recently they work in education, administration, policy-making, biotechnology and research laboratories.

How do you become a genetic counsellor? Some countries offer a master’s degree in GC, after which you can register as a genetic counsellor. In SA the universities of Cape Town and the Witwatersrand offer the degree. However, other medical professionals can provide genetic counselling without a specific GC degree.

Out of interest, have you heard of GC before? Or have you had GC before, and if so, what was your takeaway impression?

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