Genome sequencing seems like a concept directly out of a sci-fi film, but more and more this type of test is being used to inform people about potential health risks or diseases that their bodies are prone to.
About 2,000 different tests are available to map human genes in order to determine whether you have the potential for ailments like breast cancer or heart disease. The testing process includes submitting blood samples and requesting which tests you would like performed.
There are a number of companies including 23andMe and other commercial labs that conduct testing. The costs range from $99 to thousands of dollars. And insurance plans do not typically cover charges for these types of tests. So, should you invest the time (and money) to get your genes mapped? The answer is…it depends.
What Are Genetic Tests Used For?
Doctors use genetic tests or genome mapping for a number of reasons, including finding out if parents could pass on potentially damaging diseases to their children, diagnosing patients or discovering whether an individual is prone to certain illnesses.
Genetic carrier screenings can uncover if expectant parents will pass these disease risks to their offspring. Tests, such as amniocentesis, can determine through genetic analysis whether an unborn child will have cystic fibrosis or other life-limiting diseases. Patients that have “mystery” illnesses can get a genetic test in an attempt to finally diagnose their problem.
Genetic analysis also reveals that people with blue eyes are more likely to become alcoholics. And certain tests can even identify potential male fertility problems. A preventive approach to genetic testing involves the creation of a genetic blueprint. This blueprint can be used to optimize your body’s performance by understanding what activities affect how your genes express themselves, so you hardwire these activities into your daily life to foster a positive influence on your gene expressions. This procedure harnesses genetic predispositions to achieve certain bodily performance objectives.
Do Genetic Tests Really Work?
Honing a skill takes time and effort. The same is true of developing robust genetic tests. Many of the tests are efficient at making a health diagnosis.
However, they are not infallible.
Sometimes, mutations can present in other areas of a genome that are not identified by a test. And the analysis (by the patient) of these results can lack the basic knowledge required to interpret the information properly.
Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss…
You’ve heard the statement right? What you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?
Deciding to get your genomes mapped is an individual choice. Does the additional stress of knowing your potential for diseases increase your risk of contracting these diseases due to stress response? For some people knowledge is a blessing and provides a modicum of control, for others it is a curse and an unnecessary burden.
Getting your genomes mapped for those who view it as a blessing can offer good information. For those who worry constantly, getting tested is not worth the anxiety the results (or lack thereof) may cause. Often the things your doctor recommends, like diet and exercise, are exactly the things you need to manage your health and reduce your disease risk factors. So the next time your doctors tells you to lose 20 pounds, take the advice, no genetic test needed.
The Future of Genetic Testing
The future of genetic testing is very promising. This area of science has the capacity to change the way medicine is practiced and the way patients receive treatment. However the future isn’t quite that bright just yet.
“The utility of some tests is not as clear as we’d like to think,” says Sharon Terry, president and CEO of the Genetic Alliance, an advocacy organization aimed at promoting health through genetics. “These technologies are advancing at a really rapid rate, and they’ll make a big impact on health. But the data gathering you need to do to determine clinical utility is difficult.”
As genetic mapping becomes more mainstream, the expectation is that health insurance companies cover these tests. So until that happens, what can you do?
Ask yourself a couple of questions prior to getting a genetic test. First, is this test a routine part of medical care? And, what will the results tell me? The first question will give you information needed to understand if the test is a part of adopted medical practice and gives you a sense of legitimacy. The second question will help you avoid the potential for added stress by understanding expectations ahead of time.
Deciding to get a genetic test offers both promise and risk. The test may not have all the answers you are looking for and could lead to unneeded stress in some people. Weigh your options carefully before proceeding with genome mapping. Understand the weaknesses of the particular genetic test you plan to use. And know what the test will mean for your individual health.