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Ask the Expert: Genetic Testing at the Community Cancer Center

genetic testing

As part of our celebration of 10 years of the Nassif Community Cancer Center, our team members will give an inside look into the services available to our patients and how they can help them along the cancer journey.

Next up is Genetics Nurse Practitioner Julie Thompson, ARNP-BC, sharing more about the Genetic Testing Program the how it can help patients and their families understand their risk of having a hereditary syndrome.

What does a genetic nurse practitioner do and what is genetic testing?

A genetics nurse practitioner is a nurse practitioner with additional education and expertise in genetic education and testing. Here at St. Luke’s and the Community Cancer Center, our genetic nurse practitioners primarily see cancer patients and their families, as well as individuals with an increased risk of developing cancer. Genetic testing is a tool used to help assess an individual’s or family’s risk of having a hereditary syndrome.

How does genetic testing benefit patients at the cancer center?

Genetic testing has many benefits. It may help determine if an individual is at an increased risk for different types of cancer.  It may also help with treatment options for those already dealing with a cancer diagnosis. It informs family members of their potential risk for a hereditary syndrome. And sometimes, it reassures individuals that there risk of developing cancer is NOT increased.

How has the genetics program at the cancer center grown over the last 10 years?

When the program was started, in 2007, there were really only 2 or 3 cancers that were considered “hereditary:” breast, ovarian, and colon cancer. Essentially, we were only looking at 2-4 genes when considering testing. Currently, the typical number of genes assessed is 40-50, and almost all cancers may have a hereditary component.

Hear From Our Experts

Genetic Testing


Julie Thompson, ARNP-BC, a Genetic Nurse Practitioner at the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center joins Dr. Dustin Arnold, Chief Medical Officer at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Hospital, to discuss genetic testing.

How do you see the genetics program advancing in the next 10 years?

As we learn more and more about cancer and genetics, one exciting area that is opening up is genetic testing to help with treatment options. Also, as more research is done, genetic testing is beginning for cancers such as lung, leukemia, and lymphoma.  I believe we will get to the point where genetic testing is a routine part of care after any cancer diagnosis.

What is your favorite thing about being a genetics nurse practitioner?

My favorite thing is helping patients and their families realize that finding a hereditary cancer syndrome is not scary. It’s actually very empowering. Our goal is to prevent a cancer diagnosis for anyone else in the family, whether through early screenings, or preventive surgeries. Regardless, knowledge is power for these families, and genetic testing helps them take control.

Julie Thompson

Julie has been a genetics nurse practitioner with UnityPoint Health since 2007.


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