Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing May Present Certain Risks

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There is a growing trend in some countries to use direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing. Traditionally, health screening such as genetic testings are available only through the health care system or healthcare provider. Your doctor or health service orders the appropriate tests and they are responsible for collecting and sending the samples. They are also responsible for interpreting the results and offering professional advice. With DTC genetic testing, you can order the health screening kit through the advertisement on television or print, from the internet and even through the pharmacy. Essentially, you collect your own sample, mail it to a laboratory and wait for the results. You are then notified of the results via telephone, mail or it may be posted online. While DTC health screening kit may offer convenience, recent studies suggest that such at-home genetic tests may present certain risks and limitations.

Genetic tests check the genome (a full set of chromosomes) for a variety of heath conditions including macular degeneration, heart attack, diabetes, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s risk and even caffeine metabolism. It is assumed that results from such testing would help the users better manage their health to take proactive or preventive measures. Any health risks are often followed with further health screening. However, a recent study reveals that such at-home genetic tests may not boost the user’s anxiety. In other words, users find little or no impetus to alter their lifestyle or nutrition habits to modify the predicted risks. This is documented in a study involving 2,000 participants who took the genome tests. Based on questions they answered in questionnaires, there were no differences in exercise levels or fat intake before and after the tests were taken.

Health experts are also concerned about the validity of at-home health screening. Undercover investigations of genetic testing services showed that certain companies use deceptive marketing to promote their products. Other flaws were also revealed in these investigations. They found that the resulting data may not be accurate and users often have little or poor advice from supposed consultation experts.

Consumers using DTC genetic testing may also be vulnerable to inaccurate, incomplete or misleading results. Unlike traditional health screening, you are left to interpret the results and make important decisions without the option of consulting medical experts. And as pointed out earlier, even if they supposedly have medical experts on hand to advice, you can never be sure if you are dealing with medical professionals.

This trend has yet to catch on in Singapore and parts of Asia. It is advisable to seek medical experts to conduct genetic testing or any kind of health screening.