Genomic Medicine and Genetic Counseling in the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense

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Vickie Venne. That would be why GMS fields over 150 referrals every week. It is a large list. We also see veterans with personal or family histories of neurologic or cardiologic concerns as well.

Renee, as somebody who fields many of these referrals from unaffected individuals, what is the family history process?

Renee Rider. We don’t expect the referring provider to be a genetic expert. When a provider is seeing a constellation of several different cancers and he or she doesn’t know if there’s anything going on genetically or even if it’s possible, absolutely they should put in a referral to GMS. We have a triage counselor who reviews every consult that comes into our service within 24 hours.

Many cancers are due to exposures that are not concerning for a genetic etiology. We can let you know that it is not concerning, and the PCP can counsel the patient that it is very unlikely to be genetic in nature. We still give feedback even if it’s not someone who is appropriate for genetic counseling and testing. It is important to reach out to GMS even if you don’t know whether a cancer is genetic in nature.

It also is important to take your time when gathering family histories. We get a lot of patients who say, “There’s a lot of cancer in my family. I have no idea who had cancer, but I know a lot of people had cancer.” That’s not the day to put in a referral to GMS. At that point, providers should tell the patient to get as much information as they can about the family history and then reassess. It’s important for us to have accurate information. We’ve had several times where we receive a referral because the veteran says that their sister had ovarian cancer. And then when our staff calls, they later find out it was cervical cancer. That’s not a good use of the veteran’s time, and it’s not a good use of VA resources.

The other important thing about family histories is keeping the questions open-ended. Often a PCP or specialist will ask about a certain type of cancer: “Does anyone in your family have breast cancer, ovarian cancer?” Or if the veteran
is getting a colonoscopy, they ask, “Does anybody have colon cancer?” Where really, we need to be a little bit more open-ended. We prefer questions like, “Has anyone in your family
had cancer?” because that’s the question that prompts a response of, “Yes, 3 people in my family have had thyroid cancer.” That’s very important for us to know, too.

If you do get a positive response, probe a little bit more: what kind of cancer did someone have, how old were they when they had their cancer? And how are they related? Is this an aunt on your mom’s side or on your dad’s side? Those are the types of information that we need to figure out if that person needs a referral.

Vickie Venne. It’s a different story when people already have a cancer diagnosis. Which hematology or oncology patients are good referrals and why?


Next Article:

Prevalence of Cancer in Thyroid Nodules In the Veteran Population (FULL)

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