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Should You Take a Genetic Test to Learn More About Your Health?

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Should You Take a Genetic Test to Learn More About Your Health?

Genetic testing has opened a window to some of the most intricate aspects of our health.

Today, through testing available at medical offices or even at home, we can get a close-up look at our genes, which the National Human Genome Research Institute describes as the “DNA instructions you inherit from your mother and your father."

This peek at our genes offers an array of medical insights, assisting medical professionals in diagnosing disease, determining the severity of a disease or pinpointing the likelihood of developing a disease.

What are some health benefits of genetic testing?

According to the American Medical Association, diseases that can be diagnosed through genetic testing include cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease, while disease risks that can be detected through genetic testing include colorectal cancer and certain forms of breast cancer.

health benefits of genetic testing

Additionally, the Association says, genetic testing can zero in on drugs that stand the best chance of treating disease. It can even uncover genetic alterations that might be responsible for causing a disease.

“Baffling or complex health problems of any sort can benefit from these tests," says nurse anesthetist Nick Angelis. "In most cases, help from a medicine doctor or other trained professional is the best way to interpret results."

How expensive is genetic testing?

Angelis points out that at-home genetic tests can cost less than $100, while lab tests can run into the thousands.

According to the federal government's Genetics Home Reference, in many instances, health insurance covers the cost of genetic testing if your doctor has recommended it.

genetic testing expenses

Coverage varies from insurer to insurer, so check with your insurance company before moving forward with any kind of genetic testing. A short-term insurance plan, for example, will not cover this type of testing.

Is the cost worth it?

A report cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says U.S. spending on genetic testing could soar to between $15 billion and $25 billion by 2021.

However, 56 percent of doctors surveyed for the report think genetic testing will boost health care costs, with only 19 percent of doctors saying they think it will decrease heath care costs.

By contrast, a study from the University of California San Francisco suggests genetic testing can reduce heath care costs and improve the quality of health care.

What should I consider before moving forward?

No matter the expense, Angelis warns against relying too heavily on genetic tests.

“Using genetic information as a bible instead of an informative guide with suggestions is inappropriate," he says. “It reminds me of tutoring students in college who insisted their poor grades were because of an ADD diagnoses and unrelated to their refusal to study and do homework."

drawbacks of genetic testing

Similarly, the National Human Genome Research Institute cautions that it can be emotionally taxing to find out the results of a genetic test.

Learning that you or someone in your family has—or is at risk for—a disease can be scary," the Institute says. "Some people can also feel guilty, angry, anxious, or depressed when they find out their results."

A "personal and complex" decision

genetic testing personal decision

Fortunately, the testing itself typically is not invasive. According to the Genetic Testing Registry, it requires a sample of blood, saliva, hair, skin, amniotic fluid or other tissue.

“Genetic testing is voluntary. Because testing has benefits as well as limitations and risks, the decision about whether to be tested is a personal and complex one. A geneticist or genetic counselor can help by providing information about the pros and cons of the test and discussing the social and emotional aspects of testing," Genetics Home Reference says.


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