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At-Home Genetic Tests: Proceed with Caution

It is only natural for people to be curious about their genetic predisposition. Traditionally, people could examine their genetic blueprints through genetic tests conducted in a specialized laboratory, and have their results evaluated and explained by a healthcare professional. Recently, some companies have been releasing products for at-home genetic testing, claiming these tests can help indicate your body's propensity toward developing a disease, passing a disorder onto offspring or providing a foundation to determine your best lifestyle, eating habits or medication. However, consumers might be wasting their money when purchasing at-home genetic tests, and could make regrettable decisions based on erroneous information from these tests.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal agency that regulates the at-home genetic testing market; and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the federal agency that promotes health protection, have come together to warn consumers about the risks involved with at-home genetic tests. Not only do the test results lack scientific validity, but many require a full medical evaluation due to the complex nature of testing and interpretation. Both agencies say genetic tests should be done in appropriate laboratories and interpreted by a doctor or trained healthcare expert.
Why? At-home genetic test results cannot always be read clearly. Without proper training, interpreting the results can be difficult. Consumers are advised not to use the results of an at-home test as the sole basis for a medical decision. Many factors affect a person's susceptibility for a disease including family background, medical history, lifestyle and environment. Some tests also claim to test a person's tolerance to environmental exposure. In reality, this cannot be tested. Test results are simply indications of a diagnosis risk, not a guarantee that a person will suffer a particular disease or that the disease will be severe if it does develop.

At-home genetic tests can promote awareness and encourage consumers to take a more proactive role in healthcare. However, at-home tests should never be considered a substitute for a traditional healthcare evaluation. If you are considering purchasing an at-home test, remember to keep the following in mind:

  • Ask your doctor or healthcare professional if he/she thinks you are an appropriate candidate to take an at-home test, and if so, which test would be the best. Make sure you understand the limitations of results before purchasing or taking the test.
  • Take your test results to your doctor or healthcare professional, and ask for their medical expertise to interpret and evaluate the results. Although some at-home tests claim to evaluate the results for you, it may be better to trust a physician who knows your medical history for a more personalized interpretation.
  • Do not make drastic changes to your lifestyle or health based on the at-home test results. Make sure to discuss the results with your doctor or healthcare professional it is dangerous to make changes based on potentially erroneous or unreliable results.
  • Just as you should with your financial information, be careful to protect the privacy of your personal information. Some at-home test companies post their patient test results online or share a consumer's private information with marketing companies. Make sure to check a company's privacy policy before sending in your at-home test.
  • Remember: no at-home genetic test has been reviewed or has had their claims evaluated for accuracy by the FDA. Some tests may have undergone FDA review for reasonable assurance on safety and effectiveness, not accuracy.

For more information on at-home genetic tests, go to the Federal Trade Commission's literature at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/health/hea02.shtm. The FTC can be also be contacted by visiting www.ftc.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

To file a complaint, Marylanders may also call the Office of the Attorney General at 410-528-8862 or 1-888-743-0023 (toll-free in Maryland), or go to the Consumer Protection Division's website at http://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer.

March 2011


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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