The use of home genetic testing kits may convince users that they do not need to be professionally tested for life-threatening diseases.
In the past genetic testing was done solely at the recommendation and in conjunction with your doctor or a genetic counselor. Now sales of home genetic testing kits, also called direct-to-consumer genetic testing kits, are on the rise. Instead of going to a doctor’s office for genetic testing, people can now order a test online for a couple of hundred dollars, or less, swab their cheek or spit into a vial and send off their genetic material for analysis.
You can find out many interesting things about your health and family history with these tests such as where your ancestors are from, your genetic risk for Celiac disease, and the likelihood of having dimples or motion sickness. But, certified genetic counselor Mary Freivogel warns, you shouldn’t rely on these tests for predictive health information.
“Genetic home tests look for certain changes to your DNA that make you more likely to get a type of disease,” she explains. “These changes don’t tell you if you will get the disease. If you don’t have the changes, it doesn’t mean you won’t get the disease.”
Freivogel says these tests are best used for people who are curious about their genetic makeup and ancestry, but not for people who have a family history of certain health conditions. Genetic testing is complicated. These home tests can’t test for every possible variation that could indicate a higher risk of a certain disease such as breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
“There are different types of tests a person with a family risk should have. If you have something in your family history that you’re concerned about you probably shouldn’t go down the road of home genetic testing.” Freivogel
For example, 23andMe recently announced that their Health & Ancestry test can detect three mutations of the so-called breast cancer genes, commonly referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2. It’s important to note that there are thousands of variations for breast cancer and, also, that the three that the company tests for are primarily found in people of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent.
Getting a positive result for one of these gene variants is significant since it dramatically increases your chances of getting breast or ovarian cancer. But, for the women who get a negative result, whether they’re Jewish or not, they should not think that they’re in the clear from getting breast cancer, Freivogel councils. Women with this false notion may skip life-saving mammograms.
If you suspect you are at risk for developing breast cancer because of family history, a better choice for your health is to see a genetic counselor or physician who has experience and expertise in genetics.
If you do decide that the information available through one of these genetic testing kits is too interesting to pass up, be sure to share your results with your doctor or speak to a genetic counselor to help you understand your report. Also, if you do find something clinically significant, have it confirmed with a clinical grade test, which many of the home tests are not.
Tags: genetic testing
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