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Using Genetics Testing to Predict Diseases: Yes or No?

What is genetics testing? What can it do for you? Are there only benefits? Or are there drawbacks as well? Find out the basics of genetics testing here.

Genetics testing

Virtually every human ailment, except perhaps trauma, has some basis in our genes. Of course, genetics remain just one of several factors that contribute to people’s risk of developing most common diseases. Diet, lifestyle, and environmental exposures also come into play for many conditions, including many types of cancer.

A deeper understanding of genetics will shed light on more than just hereditary risks by revealing the basic components of cells and, ultimately, explaining how all the various elements work together to affect you in both health and disease.

Should You Get Tested? 

Would you like to see into the future? Genomics tests help to take a peek beyond the present to see if there are any factors which might up your risk of diseases.

How does it do that? 

  • Genomic tests look at your genes as the DNA which you have inherited from your parents can uncover pieces of the puzzle of your health.
  • It can detect changes in all or selected parts of your genome which might influence of developing certain diseases.
  • It can also predict how serious a disease could be.

It’s Not the Full Picture

One thing you should remember, is that current tests are just telling you part of the story. For most diseases, many pieces of the genetic puzzle remain to be discovered. And how those pieces interact with lifestyle and environmental factors are also unknown.

This means that your test results may falsely reassure you if you have any undiscovered risk factors, or needlessly scare you with undiscovered protective factors.

Pros and Cons

For many, it is important to know whether a disease can be prevented if a gene alteration causing a disease is found.

For example, if through a test you have discovered inherited predispositions to breast or colon cancer, you have options such as earlier and more frequent disease screening, or earlier treatment.

However, if you find out that you may develop a disease with no treatment or preventative measures, like Huntington’s or Alzheimer’s, it can be devastating to you and your loved ones. With that said, the results can still help you make life decisions, such as your career choice, family planning, or insurance coverage.

Also, ask yourself if you are prepared to make changes in your lifestyle based on the test results. If you are not willing to take actions like stopping smoking or exercising more, such tests may not be of much benefit to you.

If you’re ready to undergo such tests, here are some people who stand to gain:

  • Women whose pregnancy may be at increased risk for complications or birth defects based on age, blood tests, ultra-sound findings or family history
  • Women who have had two or more miscarriages, a stillbirth or a baby who died
  • Women considering pregnancy or who are pregnant and taking prescription medication
  • Couples who would like prenatal testing or more information about genetic conditions that occur more frequently in their ethnic group
  • Couples who are blood relatives
  • Parents whose child has been diagnosed with a genetic condition, mental retardation or birth defect
  • Individuals who are concerned about their personal risk for disease based on lifestyle, occupational exposures, medical history or family history
  • Individuals who are concerned about their risk of developing cancer based on personal or family history

Questions You Should Ask Your Genetic Counsellor

A genetic counsellor is someone who can help you and your family understand the scientific, emotional, and ethical factors surrounding the decision to have genetic testing and how to deal with the results of those tests. Here are some questions you should ask:

  • What causes this condition
  • What are the features of this condition?
  • What are the long-term effects of this condition?
  • What is the life expectancy of someone with this condition?
  • How is this condition treated?
  • Is there a cure for this condition?
  • What other health care professionals should I see?
  • What special care does a person with this condition require?
  • Will this condition improve or worsen over time?
  • Are there tests available to see if a person is affected with or is at risk for this condition?
  • How accurate are the tests for this condition?
  • Is this condition passed from one generation to the next?
  • Can a person not have this condition but still pass it on to his or her children?
  • Can a person get this condition from being around others who have it?
  • Could my children or siblings have this condition?
  • How will this diagnosis affect my health/life insurance?
  • Where can I go for a second opinion?
  • What are the medical costs likely to be?
  • Is there financial assistance available for individuals with this condition?
  • Are there organisations or support groups where I can talk to other people about this condition?

 If you are interested in genetics testing, try talking to your doctor or reach out to a hospital. You should understand what it is and what your decision entails before taking the leap.

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Genetics testing. Would you or won’t you? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

 

Edited by: The HealthWorks Team
Contributed by: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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