Journal of Genetic Counseling

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 633–639 | Cite as

The Evolution of Cancer Risk Assessment in the Era of Next Generation Sequencing

  • Heather FecteauEmail author
  • Kristen J. Vogel
  • Kristen Hanson
  • Shannon Morrill-Cornelius


Cancer genetics professionals face a new opportunity and challenge in adapting to the availability of cancer genetic testing panels, now available as a result of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology. While cancer panels have been available for over a year, we believe that there is not yet enough data to create practice guidelines. Despite this, a year of experience allows us to provide our opinion on points to consider as cancer genetic counselors incorporate this testing technology into genetic counseling practice models. NGS technology offers the ability to potentially diagnose hereditary cancer syndromes more efficiently by testing many genes at once for a fraction of what it would cost to test each gene individually. However, there are limitations and additional risks to consider with these tests. Obtaining informed consent for concurrent testing of multiple genes requires that genetics professionals modify their discussions with patients regarding the potential cancer risks and the associated implications to medical management. We propose dividing the genes on each panel into categories that vary by degree of cancer risk (e.g. penetrance of the syndrome) and availability of management guidelines, with the aim to improve patient understanding of the range of information that can come from this testing. The increased risk for identifying variants of uncertain significance (VUS) when testing many genes at once must be discussed with patients. Pretest genetic counseling must also include the possibility to receive unexpected results as well as the potential to receive a result in the absence of related medical management guidelines. It is also important to consider whether a single gene test remains the best testing option for some patients. As panels expand, it is important that documentation reflects exactly which genes have been analyzed for each patient. While this technology holds the promise of more efficient diagnosis for many of our patients, it also comes with new challenges that we must recognize and address.


Genetic counseling Neoplastic syndromes Hereditary Genetics Medical Next generation sequencing Genetic testing panels 


Conflict of Interest

Heather Fecteau MS, CGC, Kristen Vogel MS, CGC, Kristen Hanson MS, CGC, and Shannon Morrill-Cornelius MS, CGC declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

No animal or human studies were carried out by the authors for this article.


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Copyright information

© National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heather Fecteau
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristen J. Vogel
    • 2
  • Kristen Hanson
    • 3
  • Shannon Morrill-Cornelius
    • 4
  1. 1.The Medical Center of PlanoDallasUSA
  2. 2.North Shore University Health SystemEvanstonUSA
  3. 3.Saint Joseph Mercy HospitalAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Danbury HospitalDanburyUSA

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