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Subaru Love Story: Local Genetic Counselor Can Tell You A Lot About Cancer Diagnosis


As the only genetic counselor at the Philadelphia branch of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Melanie Corbman is a one-woman operation. For the past 11 years, Corbman has worked closely with cancer patients to determine if their diagnosis is hereditary and plan the next steps for treatment and family support. Her patients trust her opinion – just like she trusts her Subaru Forester. 

Through all types of weather, Corbman’s Subaru has helped her navigate her commute quickly and safely. And when her daughter graduated college and moved across the country, she chose Subaru again. It doesn’t take two generations of safety and reliability to vouch for a vehicle – but it definitely doesn’t hurt.

What’s a typical workday for a genetic counselor?

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America, all of our patients come in with a cancer diagnosis. I meet with those patients who have indications that their cancer may be hereditary – patients diagnosed at a young age, patients with more than one type of cancer and patients with a strong family history of cancer. I review the patient’s personal and family history of cancer to determine whether the pattern of the cancers in the family suggest a hereditary syndrome. I explain genetic testing and how it can be helpful for the patient in treatment decisions and preventing other cancers.

We also review how the test results can be helpful for family members. When I receive the test results, I meet with the patient again to discuss the results and explain what the next steps are for the patient and for the family. For those patients who test negative, we use the family history to guide screening for family members.

What made you decide to pursue a career in genetic counseling?

In college I majored in General Sciences with a concentration in chemistry.  I then received a Master’s Degree in Biology and was doing Genetics research.  I took some time off to have and raise my family. Once my children were in college, I wanted to use my Genetics knowledge but I wanted to work with patients rather than work in a laboratory. I went back to school to Arcadia University to receive a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling. I have now been working in the field of cancer genetics for the past 11 years.

Do you work individually or with a team?

As the only genetic counselor at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, I am a “department of one.” However, I work with all of our teams. Each of our patients is assigned to a team comprised of a medical oncologist, naturopathic physician, nurse, physician’s assistant, and nutritionist. I work with each of these teams as well as our surgeons to coordinate the best care for our patients. For example, I see patients who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer to facilitate genetic testing. The surgeons will wait for the test results since they can help guide whether a patient will have a lumpectomy to remove the portion of the breast that has cancer or whether the patient will have bilateral mastectomy if they have a high genetic risk for a second breast cancer.

What might readers be surprised to learn about the field of genetic counseling?

Initially most people think of genetic counselors as working with women who are pregnant or who wish to become pregnant to find out if they carry any genetic diseases that might be passed on to a baby. There are many fields of genetic counseling – such as adult genetics, pediatric genetics and cancer genetics. Perhaps the most surprising fact for my patients is that only 10% of cancer is hereditary.

What kind of support do you provide patients with as a genetic counselor? Can you describe that relationship?

The counseling part of being a genetic counselor is a very important and gratifying part of my interaction with patients and their family members. Learning that your cancer diagnosis was due to a hereditary risk that you were born with may help you understand why you were diagnosed with cancer. However, learning that you are at risk for additional cancer can be very scary. As a parent, I can well understand a mother’s fear that she may have passed a risk for cancer along to her children. I try to give patients a good understanding of the implications of the test results when they are deciding to have genetic testing. I help them understand the results and provide recommendations for the patient and their family members.

At CTCA I have the good fortune of being able to continue to see my patients since they are in treatment at the hospital. I can follow their progress and be available if they have questions and need additional support.

What model Subaru do you drive? Which dealership did you purchase it from?

I drive the Subaru Forester. I purchased my Forester from Glanzmann Subaru in Jenkintown, PA.  When my daughter graduated from college in 1997, we bought a Subaru Impreza for her as a graduation present.  She drove that Subaru out to Colorado and then on to California where she is still driving it.

How has your Subaru made your life easier?

Working in health care and being the only genetic counselor at the hospital, it is very important for me to be at work no matter what type of weather we are having. Knowing that my Forester can handle all types of road conditions makes my getting to work safely so much easier. Since I am petite, I love the visibility of sitting up high in my Forester with a great view of the road.  My hobby is photography and my Forester is a great way to go around exploring places where I would like to take photographs.

Has there been a moment where your career in healthcare and being an owner of a Subaru has intersected?

Two winters ago, we had a very bad ice storm in the Philadelphia area. I live in an area where there are many old trees and trees fell bringing down power lines.  All of the homes in my area lost power for several days. Fortunately, I had my Subaru and was able to get into work at the hospital and then to the home of a friend who did still have power and heat.

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This interview has been condensed and edited for length.