Genetics Program

Contact: (509) 575-8160

The genetics program at Virginia Mason Memorial provides genetic counseling, testing, and consultation for individuals and families with a variety of concerns. Genetic counselors in Yakima provide the same genetics services one would receive in a metropolitan area. Counselors also travel to Sunnyside and Toppenish once a month and Wenatchee four times a month to help serve the population of Central Washington.

Prenatal Genetics »
Cancer Genetics »
Pediatric Genetics »
Adult Genetics »
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS) »

Prenatal Genetics

Prenatal genetic counselors understand that each family is unique. We see families for a variety of reasons. Usually the family has a question or worry about a birth defect or health condition in future children. Medical reasons families might see us include:

  • Preconception counseling (planning before a pregnancy)
  • Prenatal testing education
  • A positive screening or diagnostic test result
  • Abnormal ultrasound findings
  • Concerns of exposures to medications, drugs, herbs, viruses, chronic medical conditions, or environmental factors that may cause birth defects
  • Parents are close blood relatives
  • Couples where both partners are carriers of a genetic condition
  • You, your partner, your children, or any other family member has a genetic disorder, birth defect, or developmental delay.
  • Multiple pregnancy losses or miscarriages (3 or more), a stillbirth, or infant loss of unknown cause

We work closely with Family Practice and OB/GYN physicians, and nurse midwives in the community to help women and families in the Yakima Valley with their needs. We also work closely with Perinatologists locally and at the University of Washington to provide support for high-risk pregnancies. We support each mother and family through education regarding their concern. Learning about the concern, receiving accurate information, learning about resources and support networks can be helpful for families with questions and worries. We help the family learn about options so that each family has the opportunity to make decisions that are best for them regarding various screening, diagnostic and genetic tests. Prenatal genetic counselors help you understand the risks, benefits, and limitations of prenatal tests you are considering and the results of tests you have already taken.

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Cancer Genetics

The field of cancer genetic counseling is relatively new, since the genes that predispose a person to cancer were only identified in the early to mid 1990s. At Virginia Mason Memorial, genetic counselors play a key role in the cancer risk assessment team at North Star Lodge and `Ohana. Cancer risk consultation involves the following:

  • Collecting and confirming information about personal and family history of cancer
  • Identifying the risk of developing cancer
  • Determining ways in which cancer risk can be modified
  • Genetic counselors also help individuals make decisions about genetic testing as well as create a personal cancer health program that fits with the individual's value system.

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Pediatric Genetics

Pediatric genetics involves working with families of children with a wide range of genetic conditions, including chromosomal disorders, single gene disorders, and recognizable syndromes. Many times the child is the first in their family to have a genetic condition for a variety of reasons.

More than once a month, a Genetics Physician from Seattle comes to Children's Village to see children and families for genetic consultations and developmental screenings. Physicians are faculty of the University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children's Hospital. Each family will have met with a genetic counselor prior to being scheduled for this appointment. At visits, a comprehensive family history and medical history is taken and a physical examination is completed. Genetic testing is recommended for some conditions, but is not available or necessary for others. The family will partake in a discussion regarding the findings, diagnosis, and future plans for evaluation.

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Adult Genetics

Adult genetics involves working with families with a wide variety of genetic conditions with onset occurring after childhood and adolescence. Examples of conditions are types of muscular dystrophy, Huntington's disease, Hemochromatosis, Blood clot disorders, Heritable Cardiac disorders, and more.

Most of this testing is predictive to determine if the person is at risk for developing this condition. For some conditions, this can be helpful to determine a health plan to take active steps to prevent or minimize the damage associated with the condition. For others, the client feels like this would be helpful for planning their future. Other clients choose to receive information on the condition but choose not to be tested. Like each person, each condition is unique. Meeting with a genetic counselor may help clarify the unique issues in your situation and the benefits and limitations of testing.

We work closely with the University of Washington to provide the recommended testing protocol for Huntington's disease.

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What is a genetic counselor?

Genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. Most enter the field from a variety of disciplines, including biology, genetics, nursing, psychology, public health and social work.

Genetic counselors work as members of a health care team, providing information and support to families who have members with birth defects or genetic disorders and to families who may be at risk for a variety of inherited conditions. They identify families at risk, investigate the problem present in the family, interpret information about the disorder, analyze inheritance patterns and risks of recurrence and review available options with the family.

Genetic counselors also provide supportive counseling to families, serve as patient advocates and refer individuals and families to community or state support services. They serve as educators and resource people for other health care professionals and for the general public.

This is my first visit to a genetic counselor. What can I expect from this visit?

Genetic counselors are used to speaking with clients about complex scientific and emotional topics. The topic you bring to the genetic counseling session will determine the content of the discussion, however you can expect the genetic counselor to have specialized knowledge and be able to answer your questions, maybe even to anticipate some of your questions. Often, the genetic counselor acts as an interpreter for the medical information and a support person if the information turns out to be stressful.

Your genetic counselor may ask extensive questions about your family history, as this is the way we understand inheritance patterns. It might be helpful for you to use the opportunity of a pending genetic counseling visit to research the health and medical conditions of extended relatives. Here is a link to a resource to help you think through your family history if you are interested. You are not required to complete this information prior to your visit. Additionally, if you do not have information on your family history or your partner's due to adoption or other circumstances please understand this visit can still be helpful for you.

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How long will my visit be?

The length of your visit will depend on the reason you came and how many questions you have. Usually prenatal visits will be about 45 minutes to 1 hour while pediatric and cancer sessions may be 1.5 hours.

How do I get a referral to genetics?

While you don't necessarily need a physician referral, your insurance company might ask for one before they will pay. Also, it is better to have one before seeing the genetics doctor, if needed.

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