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Give At-Home Gene Tests A Healthy Dose Of Skepticism

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Could a simple medical test tell you if you are likely to get a particular disease? Could it evaluate your health risks and even suggest a specific treatment? Could you take this test in the privacy of your home, without a doctor’s prescription or guidance? Some companies say genetic testing can do all this and more. They claim that at-home genetic testing can screen for diseases and provide a basis for choosing a particular diet, dietary supplement, lifestyle change, or medication. They sell their tests in supermarkets and drugstores, and they advertise their services in print, on television, and online.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants you to know the facts about the direct-to-consumers marketing of genetic tests.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the manufacturers of genetic tests; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which promotes health and quality of life, some of these tests lack scientific validity, and others provide medical results that are meaningful only in the context of a full medical evaluation. The FDA and CDC say that because of the complexities involved in both the testing and the interpretation of the results, genetic tests should be performed in a specialized laboratory, and the results should be interpreted by a doctor or trained counselor who understands the value of genetic testing for a particular situation. Genetic tests examine genes and DNA to see if they indicate particular diseases or disorders. Several different types of tests are available.

Some look at the number and shape of chromosomes to see if there are obvious abnormalities. Others look for small unusual portions of individual proteins or sections of DNA. Typically, these tests require a blood sample or a swab from inside the cheek. In “athome” tests, the sample is collected at your home and then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Prices of at-home genetic tests range from $295 to $1,200.

In short, the FDA and CDC say that genetic testing provides only one piece of information about a person’s susceptibility to disease. Other factors, like family background, medical history, and environment also contribute to the likelihood of getting a particular disease. In most cases, genetic testing makes the most sense when it is part of a physical exam that includes a patient’s family background and medical history.

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