For those who are concerned about their risk of inheriting disease -- from breast cancer to Alzheimer’s -- thousands of genetic tests are now at our fingertips.
Known as direct-to-consumer genetic tests, these kits can be done in the comfort of our homes -- without a doctor or genetic counselor.
But Charis Eng, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Cleveland Clinic’s Genomic Medicine Institute, said people should be wary of these types of do-it-yourself test kits.
“Many of them don’t test every single gene, although they claim to,” said Eng. “Some of them actually just look at certain spots, so you can be either falsely alarmed or falsely lulled into complacency and that’s never good.”
Eng said results from at-home genetic tests can be easily misinterpreted and shouldn’t be taken at face value.
She said it’s important to know that some direct-to-consumer genetic tests only report limited information for health conditions, and often don’t provide the full picture of disease risk.
She adds that genetic counselors are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to interpreting genetic testing results.
A genetic counselor can explain the pros and cons of testing and talk through potential results and what they mean. They will also analyze family history to determine if more extensive genetic testing is even necessary.
“If after a personal family history there’s no indication, you don’t need genetic testing because you are mostly likely not at genetic risk of disease,” said Eng. “So, it’s good to have that talk with an expert. Don’t do it alone. You are not alone.”
Eng encourages people who believe that a disease runs in their family to seek out a genetic counselor.
She said some centers even offer online genetic counseling for people who don’t have an expert nearby.