MANKATO — In-person genetic counseling used to require a drive to Rochester or the Twin Cities, until Michael Potts joined Mayo Clinic Health System’s oncology team in Mankato.

The licensed genetic counselor, the first in Mayo’s southwest Minnesota region, recently started providing the service in person and via telehealth at Andreas Cancer Center.

Genetic counseling is about trying to catch cancer early, Potts said, while helping patients and physicians determine the best course for cancer management and treatment.

Michael Potts

Michael Potts

Michael Potts

“One of the benefits of genetic testing is, if we find something that’s there, it can affect screening and management, how often they get screened and what screenings they do,” he said.

He described it as a partnership with the patient. Patients share their personal and family health history, including any known cancer diagnoses. Genetic counselors, in turn, analyze the results, looking into the role genetics contributed to health conditions.

Many cancers have strong links to genetics, including breast, ovarian, colorectal and prostate. Other cancers aren’t so clear cut. Potts and his fellow genetic counselors are tasked with navigating patients through the complexities.

It’s a highly useful tool in cancer care, said Dr. Amrit Singh, oncologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

“Many times it can affect a patient’s surgical decision on the type of surgery they may want to have, as well as the treatment course,” he said.

For patients with cancer, finding out about certain gene mutations could qualify them for targeted therapies rather than an invasive surgery. For people who don’t have cancer, but do have a family history of cancer, genetic counseling could influence how often they and their family should seek screenings.

“It gives us an idea of whether someone will get cancer earlier in life,” Singh said.

Frequent patient interaction is what drew Potts to a career in genetic counseling. When he was considering the health-care field, he recalls a job shadow with a surgeon where it was clear the physician had a strong rapport with patients.

Soon after, Potts learned about genetic counseling, seeing it as a pathway to work closely with patients.

“I have the opportunity to listen to patients, hear their concerns, what they’re struggling with, happy with,” Potts said.

Originally from Park Rapids, Potts moved to Oregon with his family as a teen. He worked in Washington before coming to Mankato, and earned his master’s degree in genetic counseling from Boise State University in Idaho.

He said coming to Mayo in Mankato, which serves a wide geographic region, fits his passion for rural health care. From a graduate school project on genetic counseling in rural areas, he said he knows how important access closer to home can be.

“It’s great to be here providing that, being the focal point of contact on genetic counseling,” he said.

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