This week is Healthcare Science Week - a week designed to promote the amazing work of healthcare science professionals and highlight the difference they make to patients' lives. In this blog, editorial assistant Ellie looks at the role that genetic counsellors have in diagnosing and treating patients.

What is a genetic counsellor?

Despite many being based in a lab, not all healthcare scientists are found in white coats and eye goggles. Often, their role is patient-facing and they have an active role in diagnosing and treating.

Genetic counsellors are healthcare scientists that work as part of a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) together with clinical geneticists and other healthcare professionals. They offer a supportive role that involves discussing the chance of inheriting diseases such as cancer.

You can’t inherit cancer from someone in your family. However, a gene mutation that makes cancer more likely can sometimes run in a family. Doctors can test for some of these gene mutations, including some linked with breast, ovarian, bowel and womb cancers. They can also sometimes see from the pattern of cancer in your family if you are likely to have a higher risk of developing cancer.

The thought of inheriting a cancer gene may feel overwhelming and scary. However, it is important to know that there are people who can help. If you are worried about cancer in your family, you should talk to your GP. They may be able to reassure you or can refer you to a genetics clinic for more advice.

Having genetic counselling

If you are given an appointment you will meet a genetics specialist. This is called genetic counselling.

The meeting will last between 30 and 60 minutes. The genetics specialist will draw up a family tree. It will show all your close blood relatives and their illnesses.

The genetics specialist will use this to assess your risk of developing cancer.

You’ll be able to discuss whether you are likely to have a higher than average risk of certain types of cancer, and whether a genetic test might be appropriate for you. They will also talk about ways of managing your risk. This will include information about screening and risk-reducing treatments.

We have a video of a Consultant Cancer Geneticist. She explains genetic counselling and how cancer sometimes runs in families.