Warning: At-home genetic tests can pose risks to your health

Warning: At-home genetic tests can pose risks to your health

Have you considered getting one of those direct-to-consumer genetic tests that you hear about on television?

With names like 23 and Me, Ancestry DNA and Color, they advertise the testing as a way of better understanding your genetic make-up and ancestral background, as well as help guide your health.

“Consumers should be aware that this over-the-counter genetic testing should be viewed as ‘for entertainment only’”, says pediatric geneticist Dr. Brad Tinkle at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

“A recent study published in Genetics in Medicine confirmed that direct-to-consumer testing has a high number of false positives and can be misleading to those who buy them. In this study alone, the number of false positives reached 40 percent.”

The over-the-counter genetic tests are not regulated like those ordered by a physician or genetic counselor. The results you receive at home from the testing reflect raw data and can be hard to interpret.

“I appreciate and support anything that promotes healthy lifestyle choices,” says Kelly Bontempo, a genetic counselor at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “And while these direct-to-consumer tests may prompt someone to be more careful about their diet and exercise, more often, they produce unexpected results and emotions.”

Bontempo says viewing test results without a professional to interpret them can produce high anxiety, false reassurance and even unnecessary health care costs for things like medications or supplements.

“If someone is concerned about their personal or family history or wants to know if genetic testing is right for them, they should first speak to a genetic counselor,” says Bontempo. “Then you will know what testing may be appropriate in your situation and how reliable the testing will be. You’ll also receive guidance to interpret the results.”

Find out more about navigating the complexities of genetics and genomics through expert evaluations, counseling and treatment.

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  1. Timothy Miller April 5, 2018 at 5:16 pm · Reply

    How accurate are they as far as ancestry make up ?

  2. This commentary on the “dangers” against using over the counter genetic testing services looks to be a scare tactic to rake more bucks into Advocate’s coffers with higher priced services without any more value being delivered.

  3. I got my DNA test through Ancestry DNA not through the over the counter test. Is that considered more reliable?

  4. I object to articles which focus on the general population as if we were all idiots and need to be protected from ourselves by the all knowing medical profession. Today’s population is highly educated and also is exposed to the internet which is a source of both good information (proactive scholarly sources including reputable medical sources) and potentially bad information (social media). Social media presents the worst of misinformation and the best of good information, so our population is learning how to discriminate. Even at early ages, which bodes well for our society. Articles like this one went out of vogue in the last millennium. I think it reflects the minority of medical professionals with a chip on their shoulders or who are fearful of being displaced by do it yourself kits. I view such kits as representing a very healthy attitude to responsible interest in ensuring we are informed enough to know when to get professional medical attention.

  5. This is a very poorly written article showing a lack of understanding of the testing purposes. The title is an awful sensationalized title that should be labeled false news. I am disappointed that advocate published this and now I have doubts about other articles being false news. I have had my DNA test run and know many others who have had the test run. I know there are genetic test that are for medical purposes but this article did not distinguish between medical run test and ancestral test. Poorly, poorly written, useless article.

  6. Rosetta Vasquez April 9, 2018 at 3:11 pm · Reply

    23 and Me testing is approved by the FDA. The company went through and extensive process for the approval and removed tests not approved by the FDA.

  7. Guess how pregnancy tests started. They are not the silver bullet but they do raise awareness. I concur with the conversation that we are not all idiots. It is my body, my life, and my choice. Us government needs to stop trampling my rights in favor of lobbists and special interest groups.

About the Author

Evonne Woloshyn
Evonne Woloshyn

Evonne Woloshyn, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. Evonne began her career as an anchor and reporter in broadcast news. Over the past 20 years, she has worked in health care marketing in both Ohio and Illinois. Evonne loves to travel, spend time with family and is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan!