Perhaps you've seen the ads or read stories about the latest development
in health care, which almost sounds too futuristic to be true: at-home,
do-it-yourself DNA testing kits that claim to tell you if you carry certain
diseases, what your ancestral history is, and more. You simply collect
a sample of your DNA, usually from a cheek swab or your stool, and send
it to the company, which sends you back the results.
"For a few hundred dollars, these kits aim to provide genetic information
directly to people, without having tests ordered by doctors," says
Michael Stouder, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
Mission Heritage Medical Group. "While people can certainly find value in having some information
on their genetic background, these tests don't give a full picture
of your health and in some cases may not be beneficial, especially if
the tests aren't conducted in a lab certified by the Clinical Laboratory
Improvement Amendment, or if the test company tries to sell you products
based on your results."
In fact, perhaps the best-known at-home genetic testing company, 23andMe,
recently reintroduced its kit after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
ordered it to stop selling the kits in 2013. "The FDA believed the
kit was a medical device because the company said people could use the
results to gauge their chances of contracting diseases," Dr. Stouder
says. "Now the test doesn't focus on disease risk, but on genetic
mutations that can be passed down to children."
Dr. Stouder adds that these carrier tests should be reviewed by a patient's
physician. "Most people don't have the medical expertise to interpret
genetic results and they can get the most out of the tests if their doctor
or a genetic counselor can go over the results and tell patients what
they mean." There are also websites that offer to analyze genetic
reports, but the end product varies widely between sites, according to
an article in
MIT Technology Review.
Before paying for a DIY genetic kit, you may want to think about what you
hope to get out of the test and if it will meet your needs. "It can
be an interesting tool if you want to know more about your heritage or
are planning to have children but are concerned about any genetic mutation
you may pass down to them. But if you are hoping to find out if you'll
get cancer or Alzheimer's, it may not meet your expectations,"
Dr. Stouder says.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.