It sounds easy. For less than $200 you can buy a DNA testing kit that provides information about your ancestry and identifies health risks in your genes. But while the ancestral information can be interesting, that health component can be troubling.
Unlike genetic tests through your doctor, direct-to-consumer genetic health tests are unreliable. A 2018 report published in Genetics in Medicine uncovered a 40% false-positive rate—for every 10 people given the life-altering news that they have a potentially serious genetic variant, four are being misinformed. Additionally, at-home genetic tests don’t check the full spectrum of risk markers for many conditions—they check only the most common and omit others.
Inaccurate results have significant consequences—unnecessary visits with specialists, wasted money, emotional distress. And for those with false-negatives, there is a risk that other symptoms of a problem will go ignored because they think they’re “safe.” At-home tests usually don’t provide access to genetic counselors to help people deal with the results, either, increasing the odds of misunderstandings. What’s more, insurance companies could withhold life, disability or long-term-care insurance based on the results, although health insurers are prohibited from considering genetic test results.
Your privacy is at risk, too. At-home genetic-testing companies sell customers’ data to pharmaceutical companies, and their databases could be vulnerable to hackers.
If you have already taken one of these tests, review the results—positive or negative—with your doctor and ask what he/she recommends as a next step. Do not make important decisions based on the test alone.
If you’re concerned about your risk profile, opt for FDA-approved genetic testing that’s arranged through your doctor and, often, covered by health insurance or Medicare. There is the “CGx” test, which screens those at high risk for cancer for a broad spectrum of genes believed to play a role in 5% to 10% of cancers—and the “PGx” test for genetic reactions to prescription drugs.