It’s gaining popularity faster than the speed of light, popping up all over the internet and making its way to TV commercials. It sounds like something from a fictional futuristic movie, but as technology continues to advance, so does medical science. Genetic testing is now being offered by numerous suppliers without the need of a doctor. Tests are continually being developed and more than 1,000 tests are being used already. Leading brands you might recognize include, 23 and Me and Ancestry DNA. Genetic testing is used to help individuals make informed decisions regarding their healthcare or family planning. There are a few different types of genetic testing including molecular, chromosomal, and biochemical testing. Testing can be done to screen newborns early in life, diagnose medical conditions, and look for carriers of gene mutations. Just this week the National Institute of Health stated, “Because testing has benefits as well as limitations and risks, the decision about whether to be tested is a personal and complex one.”1 Informed consent should be required before testing is done to ensure that the consumer understands the full extent of the procedure.
Although the physical risk for genetic testing is very small (often obtained through a cheek swab or blood draw), there may be emotional consequences. After results are provided to the consumer, feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, or guilt may follow. It may even pose tension between family members or moral conflict to an individual who does not want to offer genetic information to an employer or insurance company to avoid discrimination. Without the proper interpretation of the test results, consumers may be confused or fearful of results they do not understand. It is important to consider consulting a health care provider to review test results if they are difficult to interpret on your own. Be sure to weigh out all of the factors before deciding if you want to be tested. Are you willing to accept results whether good or bad? Do you have a health care provider you trust to discuss results? Will you be open to exploring preventative lifestyle changes?
Genetic testing also offers many benefits. It allows individuals to have a small glimpse into the future of their health, granting them time to be proactive. They may be more aware of the importance of monitoring or begin to plan treatment options. For a couple who is concerned about passing on a negative gene to a future child, it may allow them to make an informed decision before trying to conceive. It may also put the consumer in a better financial position, either allowing them time to determine costs of possible future treatments or helping them avoid unnecessary testing. Lastly, negative tests may also provide relief for those who are concerned about a specific result. It is important to remember that there are limitations to genetic testing and finding tests that adhere to Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) standards is essential. It is truly incredible how far medical science has advanced and that a looking glass into our future is within reach. Will you take the opportunity and grab it?
- What is genetic testing? National Institute of Health. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/testing/genetictesting. Published February 6, 2018. Accessed February 7, 2018.