In recognition of Genetic Counsellor Awareness Day, hear from Peter Mac’s Dr Laura Forrest, associate genetic counsellor and senior research fellow who leads the Psychosocial Cancer Genomics Research team, about her work at the Parkville Familial Cancer Centre.

The Familial Cancer Centre is a partnership between all the Parkville precinct hospitals that seeks to reduce the morbidity and mortality of cancers associated with an inherited genetic cause.

Genetic counsellors support patients and their families who have an increased risk of cancer, helping them make informed decisions about genetic testing and consider the personal and family implications of the results.

With 29 genetic counsellors, the Parkville Familial Cancer Centre is the largest of its kind in Australia. 

The centre offers a multitude of services including cancer risk assessment, genetic counselling, genetic testing, medical advice and management, and psychological support.

Dr Forrest explains, “people who have a family history of cancer or people with specific types of cancer are more likely to be referred to our service. Patients undergo a comprehensive cancer risk assessment that provides information about whether [they] are at increased risk of cancer and why”.

“We talk a lot about breast and bowel cancers because these are associated with two of the more common hereditary cancer syndromes” adds Dr Forrest.

When asked how the service and genetic counselling as a profession has changed over the years, she explained, “the profession has grown a lot since I first became a genetic counsellor back in 2004!”

“In addition to working in clinical roles, there are now genetic counsellors who specialise in education, policy, variant curation, research, and in private practise.”

“There are also academic genetic counsellors who have done or are doing PhDs and leading genetic counselling research programs, like my team and I at the Psychosocial Cancer Genomics Research team in the Parkville Familial Cancer Centre.”

The significance of diversity in generic counselling is celebrated in this year’s theme: ‘Diversity within the Australasian Genetic Counselling Profession’.

Asked why diversity is so important in the profession, Dr Forrest explained, “genetics and genomics have increasingly important implications for cancer diagnoses, treatment, and prognoses, and also in predicting future cancer risks.

“It’s critical that our profession is socially and culturally diverse to ensure we represent the Australian population, understand the needs of people with different identities, and ensure our practise is respectful and patient-centred.”

Dr Forrest advises that if you or anyone you know is worried about cancer risk you should talk to your GP, who can refer you to your closest familial cancer centre.

“There are familial cancer services in every state and territory, and many of us provide services both in person and via telehealth, allowing us to help people living rurally or regionally,” she said.

Want to know more? Visit: Parkville Familial Cancer Centre