What Genetic Counselors Want You to Know About At-Home DNA Tests

There is very little you cannot do from the comfort of your home these days. From watching a newly released movie, ordering and receiving dinner, buying a pair of shoes and even depositing a check, our busy lives have led to on-demand access for nearly everything. I find this is both a blessing and a curse. While I love saving the time I would normally take driving to those big shoe warehouses, if the shoes don’t fit quite as expected, I end up making the drive anyway to exchange them. And there is no doubt that the amount of time I spend at my desk or on the couch rather than walking around to peruse the shops or treat my cravings has adversely impacted my health. In other words, how much time have I really saved? And has it made my life better?

The same convenience versus quality dilemma can also pop up with at-home DNA testing. While we all have a right to know how our genetic makeup could affect our health, can ordering a test online actually provide us with meaningful information that we can use? Will I order the right test? Will my doctor be able to use the results I receive to tailor my healthcare? What if I know nothing about my family history? Can these tests help fill in the blanks? There is no shortage of available tests and the prices are dropping rapidly; access to genetic testing may not be as big of a speed bump as it was five years ago. So, what’s holding us back?

For starters, many of these at-home tests bank on customers being able to understand their own results. Unfortunately, genetics is not that simple. In reality, results are not always “positive” or “negative” and some tests can’t deliver meaningful or accurate data. It might also surprise you to learn that when assessing your personal risk for genetic disorders, testing a relative (such as a parent or grandparent) might provide more helpful feedback than testing yourself. So while you purchased this test thinking it would provide a lot of answers, you might come out on the other end with even more questions than you started with. 

The National Society of Genetic Counselors believes that “people interested in at-home DNA testing – also known as direct-to-consumer or online genetic testing – have a right to make an independent, informed decision about whether or not to pursue this type of testing.” However, they also believe that the companies who provide these tests “have a responsibility to offer consumers easy access and/or referrals to appropriate resources and qualified genetic professionals, such as genetic counselors.”

Genetic counselors are board-certified medical professionals that are experts in the field of genetics and help individuals as they make important decisions about their genetic health. At Insight, our genetic counselors work with you one on one to sift through your options in genetic testing for preconception, prenatal and cancer risk information with the added benefit of pretest counseling. 

Genetic testing can be a powerful tool in identifying risk of disease in ourselves and our family. But without the guidance of a genetic counselor, you might not end up purchasing the right "product" for you. The genetic counselors at Insight understand the complexities of genetic testing and can spend the time you need to feel comfortable with the testing process. While it may not be as fast as a Grub Hub order, you will learn about all the options, benefits and risks so that you are fully informed and your “order” is right for you.