Home DNA tests reveal risks for genetic disorders

POSTED: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 - 12:18pm

UPDATED: Thursday, February 25, 2010 - 12:32pm

Genetic tests can identify more than 1,500 genes linked to health outcomes and some of the tests you do yourself without going to a lab or a doctor.

Many DNA tests can be done in just a few minutes. That's how long it took for me to rub the swab in my cheek, which was then sent to a lab in Iceland, headquarters of deCode Genetics, the company we chose for this story.

The cost $985.00, and for that deCode's CEO says the test can show you your risk for 29 diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, breast and prostate cancer.

"This is an opportunity for you to put yourself as an individual in the middle of all the new discoveries since human genetics," said deCode Genetics CEO Kari Stefansson.

But a genetic counselor cautions these tests have certain limitations.

"The fact that those results are perhaps going to say, "your risk for heart disease has moved from five percent, and Iím making up the numbers here, to eight percent, how helpful is that information going to be for you in terms of changing your lifestyle," said genetic counselor Caroline Leiber.

And there's an emotional burden.

"You may open the envelope and find out that you have a disease or an increased risk for getting a disease and there's nothing you can do about it," said medical ethicist Dr. Robert Klitzman.

But deCode's CEO says testing gives patients more control.

"Now you don't go to the doctor and sit there and let the doctor tell you what risk you have. You come there with this information. It becomes a productive dialogue," said Stefansson.

Now it's time for me to check the results of my own test. I've been notified they are available on the deCode's website and this is the first time I'm seeing them."

Right away a cause for concern. My risk for macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness, is twice the average.

I continue though it's unnerving, clicking on each category waiting to see my chances of getting a particular disease. I'm calmed somewhat because my DNA profile reveals a normal risk for just about everything else from Alzheimerís to prostate cancer.

There's no strict formula for deciding whether you should take the kind of DNA test I took other than knowing whether you can handle whatever you may find out.

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