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Home Genetic Testing: What to Expect

Can Home Genetics Testing Predict Your Future?

Imagine finding out if you carry the genes for developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, just by mailing in some of your saliva. Would you do it? At-home genetic testing is growing in popularity. But, before you send off your sample, there are a few things you should know.

Results Might Not be Relevant for You

The tests are an easy way to assess some aspects of your genetic background, but when it comes to genetics, it’s not necessarily “one size fits all.” The test may not provide the information you need for your particular circumstances.

“Home tests fulfill people’s desire to get a quick answer, but the reporting process is not geared to providing a comprehensive genetic assessment and home tests aren’t providing individualized risk assessments or healthcare management recommendations,” says Lee P. Shulman, MD, FACMG, FACOG,Northwestern Medicine reproductive genetics specialist and
director of the Division of Clinical Genetics, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

You Might Not Understand the Results

Home tests only provide information about how likely you are to develop a certain disease or condition based on your genetic make-up. Without having a specialist to explain how your results might impact your health, you could end up skipping screening tests or trying to self-manage your health care, which can be risky.

“Home tests do not provide valuable clinical information that help patients change lifestyle factors or potentially reduce risks for certain diseases. In this day and age, genetic testing in the absence of counseling may be dangerous,” explains Dr. Shulman, who sees many patients seeking second opinions about their home genetic testing results.

You Still Need to See a Medical Professional

Whatever your results, deciding what to do with them can be difficult. You'll want to see a genetic counselor to help you understand your personal family risks. When you receive genetic testing in a hospital-based program, genetic counseling is a critical component that integrates the test results with your family history, environmental factors, lifestyle and other factors to help you make informed decisions. Also, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to discuss any at-home genetic test results with a medical professional. 

Knowledge of genetic information is helping patients make more informed decisions about their health. Just keep in mind that interpretation and decisions should be made in consultation with a medical professional.