The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made big news in 2017 when it said DNA testing company 23andMe could sell genetic tests directly to consumers.
These tests look at a person’s DNA to see if they are at risk for developing a certain disease or condition. Late-onset Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and celiac disease are three of the big ones. And most recently, 23andMe said it would start including information about breast cancer risk.
Genetic testing is a growing and complex part of health care. It’s true that the right genetic test can greatly benefit patient care. But, it’s equally true that a genetic test might not always be needed or could even do more harm than good .
Here are three things to consider before doing an at-home genetic test:
1. Understand what the test can and cannot tell you about disease risk.
These at-home tests can provide information about diseases you “might” get in the future. But, an increased risk doesn’t necessarily mean that you will develop the disease. Also, note that the new 23andMe test for the BRCA genes, for example, is not the same test that a health care provider might order. The company even states that their test is limited to just three very uncommon mutations. And in fact, the test won’t pick up on most BRCA mutations that would increase the risk of breast, ovarian and other cancers.
Chat with your doctor first about what you want to learn from a genetic test. They can help you figure out if taking the test will actually give you the answers you’re looking for.
2. Consider whether you want to know your risk of developing a disease that may be serious, yet does not currently have a cure.
It’s important to consider whether information from a genetic test will help or not. For some people, this information causes a lot of unneeded stress or anxiety.
3.Think about what you’ll do with the information.
An at-home genetic test won’t tell you what to do about your results. For example, if you do have an increased risk for breast cancer, your doctor might recommend additional screenings. That’s why it’s usually best to meet with your doctor or a genetic counselor before you take an at-home genetic test. They can help you figure out what the results of a test really mean for you and your family.
When it comes to using at-home genetic tests to assess the risk of disease , most genetic counselors and doctors don’t recommend them. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be a resource for you. If you’ve done an at-home test and have questions, check with your doctor. From there, they can help you decide if meeting with a genetic counselor is a good next step.
You can make an appointment to meet with a primary care doctor at our:
- HealthPartners clinics
- Park Nicollet clinics
- Clinics in the St. Croix Valley
- HealthPartners Central Minnesota Clinic
You can also find a genetic counselor near you, online.