At-home genetic testing kits are available for many purposes. The Food and Drug Administration’s stance is that testing to learn the risk of serious disease should not be available to the general public, and rather should only be used with the guidance of a medical professional and genetic counselor. Companies like Pathway Genomics, founded by Jim Plante, accept that viewpoint. The company’s DNA testing is directly available to consumers to help them learn customized strategies for enhancing health, but not to find out if they have genetic risks for serious illness.
Approaching the Knowledge With Caution
The FDA and other experts prefer that people approach the knowledge of disease risk cautiously. If they get their results with an at-home kit, they are likely to feel frightened when learning they are at higher risk of disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer or Parkinson’s disease. They feel there is not much they can do to avoid the onset of these disorders, which can make them feel out of control, anxious and depressed.
For the vast majority of diseases, genetic risk does not confirm that someone will ultimately become ill with a particular disorder. It indicates that the individual is somewhat more likely than the general public to develop it. In some instances, this knowledge can empower the person to take preventive measures.
Motivation for Preventive Measures
An increased risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes may motivate the person to begin a regular exercise program and modify the diet in healthy ways. An increased susceptibility to colon cancer can motivate the individual to have screenings as recommended and to follow dietary recommendations. There’s no doubt that the ability to determine disease risk is a significant step forward in helping people take charge of their health.
On the consumer’s or patient’s side, the initial process is easy. Usually they just need to provide a saliva sample for the company to analyze some half a million genetic markers. Some of the information provided may be intriguing for curiosity’s sake, such as having genetic variants connected with left-handedness or being nearsighted. Others have much greater implications.