You have a hunger to know more about yourself and your family’s history or determine if you’re at greater risk for a life-altering affliction like Alzheimer’s disease or cancer. To achieve this, you’re considering taking one of those at-home DNA tests you’ve heard about like 23andMe or Color. Before you sign up to have a kit sent to your home, it’s important that you understand what you’re getting and what the potential risks are.
What is at-home genetic testing?
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, direct-to-consumer genetic testing differs in that you are not submitting your DNA directly to a healthcare provider and do not involve your insurance company. DTC genetic testing allows you to have your DNA tested for a variety of genetic traits and conditions, allowing you to discern to a reasonable degree whether further action is necessary. In the form of genealogy or ancestry testing, it also allows you to learn more about your heritage and the geographical makeup of your forebears.
What are the benefits of DTC genetic testing?
The advantage of take-home genetic testing is that it’s more convenient and affordable for most than going to a healthcare provider and through an insurance company. The process is typically quite simple, and your genetic data stays on file, allowing you to test yourself again in the future for other genetic traits and diseases.
What are the drawbacks of DTC genetic testing?
According to NIH, one of the more prevalent risks of completing a DTC genetic test is the lack of oversight or regulation on the companies that are carrying out the tests. Where your healthcare provider and their affiliates are held to certain standards and limitations, this is not so much the case when it comes to companies behind at-home genetic testing. Along these same lines, there is also general concern about the accuracy of the information you receive.
Where do you fit in?
The first and most important thing to note is that if you know that you are likely genetically predisposed to a disease, your best avenue is to seek the guidance of your healthcare provider or a medical professional. If a direct relative has suffered from colon cancer, for example, you’ll want to have a colonoscopy done rather than conduct an at-home test. If you do take an at-home genetic test that shows signs of risk, your next immediate step should be to consult with your healthcare provider.
DTC genetic testing can be fun if you’re determining your heritage and useful if you’re looking to be more proactive about your health, but it can also put you at elevated risk of having your genetic information stolen. Because the companies behind these tests are not as well-regulated, there exists the potential that your data and information can be obtained illegally or without your consent.
Whether you decide it’s for you or not, being well-informed of what at-home genetic testing entails and what you can expect from it makes you a more informed consumer. You’ll get the most out of any test you take by understanding the risks, rewards and limitations, allowing you to be more pragmatic when you get the results back.