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Genetic testing is a form of medical examination that finds changes in genes, chromosomes, or proteins. The outcome of a genetic test may verify or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help assess the likelihood that a person will develop or pass on a genetic disorder.
Like anything, there are pros and cons to genetic testing. It’s a safe procedure that provides you with information, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should undergo genetic testing. This is true for at-home DNA test kits you can do on your own and professional testing that offers a more in-depth look into your genetics.
Whether or not you perform genetic testing for health reasons or to learn more about your ancestry is an entirely personal decision. But before you decide to move forward with testing, there are several things you should understand about the process, the technology, and the results you’ll get. This gives you a better look at the pros and cons of genetic testing.
First, let’s look at the benefits of genetic testing.
If you’re looking for a snapshot into your basic genetics, DNA test kits are a great tool to use. They not only give you information about your ancestry and heritage, but you’ll also have a foundation for making important lifestyle and health decisions.
It's a safe procedure that provides you with information, but that doesn't mean that everyone should have it. This is true for at-home DNA test kits you can do on your own and professional testing that offers a more in-depth look into your genetics.
Modern kits are non-invasive and affordable. It’s possible to get results from an at-home DNA test kit in just a few weeks. There’s no need for a lab visit or blood draw. You simply purchase the kit, swab your cheek, ship the swab off to the testing facility, and await your results.
At-home DNA testing vs. professional testing
At-home DNA testing kits (also known as direct to consumer, or D2C kits) usually require clients to perform a cheek swab and send the sample back to the issuing company for analysis.
This kind of test usually serves one of three functions.
· First, it allows clients to learn about their ancestry
· It gives clients recreational genetics findings, like eye color predictions
· It also screens clients for potential genetic conditions but with limited accuracy. So, if you're concerned about developing cystic fibrosis, a D2C test will only look at a few of the many potential genetic markers for it. Getting a negative result won’t necessarily mean that you're safe.
Although DTC kits can identify genetic markers, it’s hard to interpret them without a genetic counselor's guidance. The tests must also be verified with clinical DNA tests before they can be trusted for medical decisions.
Unlike Direct to Consumer tests, professional testing is implemented by a healthcare professional. In most cases, the person administering the test will take a saliva sample or draw some blood. It is then delivered to analysts who look for harmful DNA changes.
Clinical testing is targeted to specific medical and family history details. Though it’s expensive, it rarely needs to be repeated for quality purposes.
At-home tests can give consumers helpful information about their health and family history, but they shouldn’t substitute for clinical genetic testing.
That said, if you're looking for a snapshot into your basic genetics, DNA test kits are a great tool to use. They not only give you information about your ancestry and heritage, but you'll also have a foundation for making important lifestyle and health decisions.
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What are the Pros of Genetic Testing and What Can You Do with Your Results?
Once you have your results, what can you do with them?
1. Make Better Informed Health Decisions
Understanding your risk factors goes a long way in making smarter health decisions. Everyone should eat right and exercise, but what that means for each person varies.
Do you have an elevated genetic cancer risk? Are there certain biomarkers that make you prone to developing heart disease or a neurological disorder? You can combat that risk with everyday choices. Knowing your genetic health risks won’t eliminate them, but it does allow you to make the best decisions for your health. This information also provides peace of mind if you learn you lack the risk factors for certain health concerns that run in your family.
2. Connect with Your Heritage and Locate Distant Relatives
One of the main reasons people use DNA testing is to learn about their heritage. It allows them to understand themselves better and explore the roots of their family trees. Some people even choose to use what they learn from genetic testing to track down distant family members.
Many DNA kits provide a profile of your heritage, sometimes revealing quite interesting results. Even more, some even incorporate ancestry into their service, with the potential to find distant relatives.
3. Make Family Planning More Comprehensive
Understanding the potential health issues that could affect your child is a powerful tool for parents, even before they decide to conceive. It can also give insight into a child’s health risks that otherwise would have no idea what they are dealing with. Genetic testing is a great tool for helping parents make decisions about their child’s health and life.
In addition to the three personal benefits of using genetic testing, there are also global benefits. The more we learn about the genetic links to certain diseases, the better the odds of developing effective treatment and potential cures.
What are the Cons of Genetic Testing and Why Would You Want to Avoid Testing?
Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone should undergo genetic testing. There are negative aspects to using DNA testing kits. A few examples of the cons of genetic testing:
1. Some People will Obsess about Potential Health Risks
Learning that you have a higher risk than others for a health problem is stressful. For some people, this stress overwhelms them and it’s all they can think about. It is possible to have too much information.
Knowing you might develop breast cancer or receive some other devastating medical diagnosis is stressful for most people.
Even if you know you have a family history of a disease, seeing it on your own DNA test results can be especially challenging. If you are the type that will be distracted from living a full and happy life after learning about your health risks, it’s better to forego genetic testing.
Risk of cancer is just one of many issues a DNA test might reveal. Testing for cancer helps you decide if another screening is needed, but there are genetic links or all sorts of diseases. There aren’t ways to reduce your risk in some cases, as there is with some types of cancer. If genetic mutations or other issues with your genetic heritage could reveal your risk of an untreatable disease or a disease with very few treatments, it could cause secondary emotional health issues that aren’t worth knowing about your risk.
It’s also important to make sure you follow-up with your doctor or a genetic counselor if you take a test and discover a serious concern. Nobody should make misinformed decisions because of the information they gleaned from a DNA test.
2. It Exposes Information to Relatives without their Consent
It’s important to remember that your DNA test results don’t just affect you. The potential health risks and other information you discover through testing might also be risks for other people in your family. And if those people would rather not know about those risks, that’s their right. If you choose to undergo genetic testing, it’s best to keep some information to yourself unless you receive permission to share what you learn.
3. It Poses a Risk to Your Privacy
Genetic testing requires you to submit DNA to a lab, whether you are doing a test at home or under a doctor or lab supervision. Exploring your genetics might be worth the risk to you, but it’s still important to understand you are exposing very personal information. Before testing, research the company to which you are submitting your sample and make sure you understand the risks involved no matter how reputable or secure the testing service might be.
There are also concerns about how test companies store and use your information. Before taking a test, be sure you retain control over your DNA sample, as much as you can once you’ve shared it with a company.
Some genetic testing companies sell DNA data to third-party companies. Although there are no instances of this happening yet, many are concerned about insurance companies using DNA information to deny people coverage. Legally, health insurance companies cannot do this, but the same restrictions do not exist for life insurance and long-term care insurance companies.
Whether or not you take a genetic test is a personal decision. What’s right for you might not be the same as what’s right for someone else. It might not even be what’s right for you in a year or five years or 10 years.
DNA testing can be an effective planning tool, but it can also be a Pandora’s Box. Understanding the risks testing poses and making a decision based on your personal circumstances is the best way to decide if genetic testing is right for you.
Do you need genetic testing?
Genetic testing is crucial in many medical disciplines and impacts the medical care you or your family member will receive. For instance, it can diagnose genetic conditions like sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis.
How to tell if I need genetic testing
You might need genetic testing if:
You’re worried about a genetic condition within your family.
If your family has a history of a specific genetic condition, getting tested before any symptoms show will reveal how likely you are to develop that condition.
You're concerned about being a Carrier.
If you have a family history of genetic conditions like sickle cell anemia, you may choose to have genetic testing before you have children.
Carrier screening tests can identify genes linked to a wide variety of genetic diseases and harmful mutations. It will help determine whether you and your partner are carriers for the same illnesses.
You want to test your unborn child.
If you're expecting a child, genetic testing will identify anomalies within your baby's genes. This is usually accomplished by examining the mother's blood or invasive methods like amniocentesis.
You need to test a newborn
Newborn genetic tests are widespread in the United States. The government requires all newly born babies to be tested for genetic and metabolic anomalies.
This form of testing quickly reveals major illnesses so treatment can start right away.
You just want to know more about yourself.
DNA testing can reveal exciting details about your heritage, like which parts of the world your ancestors came from and why or where they migrated
DNA testing can be an effective planning tool, but it can also be a Pandora's Box. Understanding the risks testing poses and making a decision based on your personal circumstances is the best way to decide if genetic testing is right for you.
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