Do-it-yourself DNA testing: Helpful or harmful?
Dozens of companies want to predict your medical future
updated 8:29 a.m. ET, Thurs., April 9, 2009
retrieved April 19, 2009
Anna Peterson is only 27, but she's already watched her mother and her aunt develop breast cancer. She also saw her grandmother's eyesight fail from macular degeneration.
So Peterson, a graduate student in Ottawa, Ontario, took her health care into her own hands and did what millions of others of all ages are doing: She opted for an at-home
When the results from the $985 test from deCODEme arrived in her e-mail, Peterson felt relief learning that she didn't have an elevated genetic risk for macular degeneration.
Yet the test did show a slightly elevated risk for the more common forms of breast cancer. The results, Peterson says, empowered her to make healthier choices. Together with
her physician, she'll use that information to advocate for earlier screening for breast cancer — and possibly start getting mammograms at age 30.
“Prevention starts with knowing the odds,” says Peterson. “I now have the opportunity to make lifestyle changes in my 20s, rather than in my 60s.”
Welcome to the brave new world of genetic testing.
Once the exclusive domain of doctors and genetic counselors, DNA analysis is now a do-it-yourself proposition, with several dozen companies marketing tests directly to
consumers, claiming that they will allow you to understand your genetic profile. The process is surprisingly simple: Buy a test online, swab the inside of your cheek or spit into a
test tube to collect a DNA sample, and then mail it to the company. In return, you'll receive personalized medical information that purportedly allows you to combat disease by
making informed choices about your health. Bolstering that promise is new research that shows you can actually turn off genes that promote certain diseases by improving your
diet and better managing stress.
People clearly approve of genetic testing. In a recent Prevention.com poll, 87 percent of respondents said they'd want to know which inherited diseases they're at high risk of
developing. Moreover, 54 percent said they'd be likely to have a genetic test even if there was no known treatment or way to prevent the disease.
Not ready for prime time
Plenty of companies are eager to meet this demand, selling at-home tests that range in cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Some offer tests that have long been
available through doctors and genetic counselors — for instance, those that check for BRCA 1 or 2, the genes linked to a small percentage of inherited cases of breast cancer.