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Inherited disease and what genetic testing can uncover

Updated on September 17, 2021
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Dhingra
Written by
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Do you want to know more about your health risks? Could lifestyle changes help you overcome potential health problems passed down from your relatives?

Here’s what you need to know.

Understanding the link between inherited disease and DNA testing helps you identify your risks.

You’ve likely heard someone say “it’s genetic,” or “it runs in the family,” when referring to a particular health condition. Most people know that you inherit certain diseases and health conditions. Family history does play a role in your health risk. But what it means to have a genetic risk of something varies from person to person.

DNA Testing Provides Risk Assessment

At-home DNA test kits offer insight into your health risks. They do not provide enough information to justify making important health decisions. But they do give you a starting point and something to discuss with your doctor about risks you have based on genetics. Some people even meet with a genetic counselor to discuss their specific results.

Most kits help you assess your inherited risk for developing a disease, but they don’t take into account all of the other factors affecting your risk. Genetic diseases and DNA testing is more complicated than just taking a test and knowing what health risks you face.

For example, a DNA test might show you have genetic markers that put you at risk for becoming an alcoholic. But if you abstain from drinking alcohol, you’ve significantly reduced that risk. The same is true for all health conditions. Your genetic risk is just one of many factors that play a role in whether or not something will occur.

Understanding Your Risk of Inheriting a Disease Requires a Comprehensive Assessment

An at-home DNA test kit provides insight into potential health risks. But understanding how much of a concern a particular disease is for you requires a much more in-depth look.

For example, some diseases with a genetic link require the inheritance of a particular gene from both parents. Having inherited from just your mother or father amounts to little risk if any at all. This is why some inherited illnesses seem to skip a generation, like Cystic Fibrosis.

An at-home DNA test kit can help you evaluate your medical risks or understand what potential risks your children might face if you decide to conceive. But you need a thorough medical screening with input from your doctor to gain a complete picture of where you stand.

At-home genetic testing provides minimal insight into your risk of developing a particular ailment. Your test results can motivate you to make healthy lifestyle changes. But without guidance from a genetic counselor or medical professional, you won’t have a complete understanding of how these risks affect you.

Global Implications

Genetic testing has allowed us to make leaps and bounds forward in the understanding of inherited diseases. In 2003, scientists succeeded in sequencing the human genome, providing us with a so-called healthy genome to use as a basis of comparison.

Since then, research has continued with the goal of finding correlations between genetic mutations and expressed traits. We know more now than we ever have before about how genetics affects who we are and how to use it to better manage our health.

In most cases, single mutations have no direct connection to disease. Instead, genetic researchers assign a risk score that helps someone evaluate his or her risk for an inherited disease. The risk score takes into account hundreds of seemingly insignificant variants and provides an all-encompassing assessment of someone’s likelihood to develop a disease.

A risk score is not a diagnosis, but it can guide your lifestyle choices.

Can an At-Home DNA Test Tell Me If I’ll Get Cancer?

Concern about your risk of developing cancer is likely the primary health concern of our time. But can a DNA test help you determine if you are at risk for cancer?

The simplest answer to this question is “yes and no.”

An at-home DNA test kit will not diagnose you with cancer. Taking a genetic test should not replace health screenings. The test cannot even provide your specific risk for cancer even if you already have cancer.

What an at-home DNA test can do is be the starting point for speaking to a genetic counselor. Doing so provides a more comprehensive look at your risk of getting cancer. A DNA test can also tell you if you should consider healthy lifestyle changes because you might have an elevated risk. If you need a push to finally start exercising or eating better, your test results might provide you with this. But they should not inform major health decisions and should never be a reason to worry yourself sick over your risk of developing cancer.

At-Home DNA Kits Help You Screen for Risk

An at-home DNA test kit is a valuable tool to help you begin exploring your genetic health risks. These tests are not intended to be diagnostic. Instead, they are a starting point. Chances are you won’t be surprised by your results, but you can use them to learn more about your health and make changes that allow you to live your best life.

Dr. Dhingra
Dr. Harshi Dhingra
Medical Reviewer
Dr Harshi Dhingra is a licensed medical doctor with a specialization in Pathology. Dr. Dhingra has of over a decade in diagnostic, clinical, research and teaching work, including managing all sections of Pathology laboratory including histopathology, cytology, hematology and clinical Pathology.
Content Contributor
Joel is a writer with a passion for the science of DNA and the power of its manipulation.
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