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Worried about inheriting cancer or passing it on?

Talk with your health care provider or call a genetic counselor at 612-863-0200. We see patients at these locations:

Abbott Northwestern Hospital

Mercy Hospital - Mercy Campus

United Hospital


Before your first appointment, you may be asked to fill out the family history patient intake packet.

TeleHealth services

We provide cancer genetic counseling through TeleHealth services. Real-time, remote, face-to-face health care video interactions provide individual cancer risk assessment and management plans based on personal and family history. Genetic testing will be arranged as needed.

If you are interested in this service, call 612-863-0228.

Locations where TeleHealth services are provided include:

  • Buffalo Hospital
  • Cambridge Medical Center
  • Cuyuna Regional Medical Center
  • District One Hospital
  • First Light Health System
  • Glencoe Regional Health Services
  • New Ulm Medical Center
  • River Falls Area Hospital
  • Riverwood Healthcare Center
  • Willmar Regional Cancer Center


Video for patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer

Genetic counseling

Shari Baldinger, genetic counselor and manager of genetic counseling services for Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, explains who a genetic counselor is and how genetic counseling may help families.

A genetic counselor is a special trained medical professional whose function, in the cancer realm, is to try to help individuals and families clarify what their risk for cancers are. In light of those risks, families partner with their physicians to try to get a plan in place, a management plan, that fits that individuals risks and if genetic testing is indicated to help in that regard to help them make an informed decision about genetic testing. 

Those tests are complex. The results are sometimes difficult to understand, and we are specially trained to help both the physician and the patient understand the ramifications of the test result as well as the limits of the test and what it means for them and their families. 

A man or woman who has been diagnosed with cancer, they sometimes will say, "Why do I need to see a person in genetics, I have cancer what difference does it make to me?" Or "I might not have kids." 

If we can figure out the underlying reason for the cancer and if there's a reason to suspect it might have a genetic piece to it or an inherited piece to it, it may help their physicians to choose a better treatment. It also may give us guidance as to how to best screen them to perhaps prevent another cancer from occurring or diagnose it early. 

For an individual who has a family history of breast cancer, they're often very concerned. What's the chance this is going to happen to me? Should I get a genetic test? Will that tell me? And the genetic counselor is in the perfect position to help assess the risk. 

For some of our colon cancer patients, we need to start them at 20 instead of 50 and maybe do them every year instead of every 5 or 10 years. So we want to make sure that the right people are screened and that people who don't need to be don't have excessive screenings. 

We haven't found all the genes that cause cancer. So genetic counseling does not always equal genetic testing. People can be high risk even if they've had a normal gene test. So genetic counseling's about clarifying risks and making informed choices. 

Virginia Piper has really started the forefront of promoting genetics as a component of cancer services. 

We try across the whole system of Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, to be sure that the physicians and the nurse coordinators and every cancer patient at Virginia Piper Cancer Institute should have a nurse coordinator help guide their care, is aware of the little ticklers of what is it about a patients personal diagnosis or family history says they may benefit from seeing a genetic counselor.

We've done a really good job at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute of having genetics a part of all the tumor conferences and so when issues come up that we can remind the providers that this needs to be thought of. And so that the patient and their family is aware that this service is available. 

We have genetic counselors at all of the major metro hospitals. We also have it at some regional hospitals.         

Because access is so important and we want to be sure people do have access, we've begun a tele-health on genetic counseling to some of the out state regions so that people can stay in their own communities and get this service. It's about screening, prevention. That would be great to put oncologists out of business.

Cancer genetic counseling: How it can help you and your family

If you or a close relative has had cancer, you may be concerned about your risk for a future cancer and what you can do to reduce that risk. A close relative is a parent, brother, sister, child, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew or grandparent. 

You may wonder if your children or other relatives are at risk. You may also wonder if genetic testing is right for you. 

Genetic counseling can help answer your questions. 

A genetic counselor is a nationally certified health care provider. He or she can:

  • interpret complex family histories
  • educate about cancers that run in families (known as inherited or genetic cancer)
  • talk about cancer risks, screening and prevention for you and your family
  • help patients and families make informed decisions about genetic testing and help interpret test results

Genetic counseling may be right for you if you or a close relative had any of these:

  • breast cancer at age 45 to 50 or younger
  • breast cancer at any age with Jewish ancestry
  • ovarian cancer at any age
  • colorectal cancer at younger than age 50
  • any rare type of cancer
  • similar types of cancer in many relatives (in either your mother's family or father's family)
  • more than 10 precancerous colon polyps during your lifetime
  • more than one type of cancer

If you or any of your family have or had any of the above, or if you are concerned about your cancer risk, talk with your health care provider about genetic counseling.

Not everyone with a personal or family history of cancer will benefit from a genetic test. Meeting with a genetic counselor does not mean that you will have a genetic test. You may learn more about the testing options and if they are right for you. 

Not all genes linked to cancer risk have been identified. Before you have a genetic test, you want know:

  • that the correct test is being done
  • how valid the test results are
  • what your next steps are when you receive the results (positive or negative)

A genetic counselor will help answer these questions and help you make decisions that are right for you.

Genetic testing is usually done with a blood test.

These tests are usually covered by insurance. Your genetic counselor will help you with this.

There is no fee from the genetic counselor.

There may be a room charge or other fee from your clinic. The fee is not billed under the genetic counselor’s name, but under the health care provider who referred you for genetic counseling, or from a clinic doctor.

Check with your insurance provider to see if your insurance will cover this service.

Meet the team

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Cancer Genetic Counseling: How It Can Help You and Your Family, can-ahc-14960
Reviewed By: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts, including Shari Baldinger, MS, certified genetic counselor, Abbott Northwestern Hospital
First Published: 08/17/2009
Last Reviewed: 05/31/2018