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Helping Establish a Genetic Counseling Program at SMH

Impact Stories

FALL 2020

Genes play an important role in the development, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. They can increase a person’s likelihood of developing cancer, and in people who have already been diagnosed, influence the type of treatments that will work most effectively.

Genetic counselors provide an essential service to people who are newly diagnosed with cancer, and for those who might be at increased risk of the disease because of a family history.

The decision to establish the Genetic Counseling Program is just one of the ways that SMH demonstrates its commitment to providing true cancer care, not just cancer treatment.

Meet Nicole Wood, the only certified genetic counselor between Tampa and Fort Myers. Nicole helps patients dig into their family’s genetic history to learn their cancer risk. With Nicole’s help, those who are at increased risk can develop a proactive plan, which might include additional screening.

“Our goal is to help patients understand their family history component, which can help them integrate genetics into their treatment plan or stop cancers from happening,” Wood says.

Making Sense of a Cancer Diagnosis
In the middle of a diagnosis, patients are often overwhelmed from dealing with so much new information. “It’s obviously a very difficult time,” Wood says.

“Understanding genetics can put some of that information into context. Why did it happen to my mother, why did it happen to my sister, and why did it happen to me? How can we make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else in the family?”

Choosing the Right Treatment
Those who have already been diagnosed with cancer may visit Wood to figure out the best treatment approach. “For example, if a woman is trying to determine whether she wants a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, she may see me to find out if she has a genetic predisposition,” she says.

“In people whose cancer has continued to grow after chemotherapy, genetic testing can help determine next steps. Some treatments, including PARP inhibitors and immunotherapies, only work in people who have a certain genetic mutation,” Wood adds.

How the Foundation Helps
The genetic counseling Wood provides was made possible through a grant from the Gerald A. and Karen A. Kolschowsky Foundation, Inc., which has proudly supported women’s gynecological cancer research at SMH for many years. It is their hope supporting this critical research will help lead to better outcomes and perhaps one day, a cure.

Both Nicole and our entire community are couldn’t be more appreciative, “Philanthropy has been a cornerstone of this program and we are so grateful for the Kolschowsky’s assistance,” she says. “The funds they provide allow us to provide genetic counseling and genetic testing services to all patients, including those who would not otherwise be able to afford them.”

Nicole says she’s excited to see what the future will bring as the program moves into the new Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute. “We’re excited to grow with the Jellison Cancer Institute and the community, and to provide these services and risk-reducing opportunities to our community members.”

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