Genetic Testing Why Test Child

There are many benefits to genetic testing for children. Different tests are available that supply information on an individual’s ancestry. Genetic testing for children can also determine an individual’s predisposition to certain genetic diseases and conditions. Early diagnosis of a genetic disease gives an individual a better chance for a healthy life.

Genetic effects on child development can be behavioral, psychological or physical. Genetics help to determine countless aspects of an individual’s makeup, such as:

  • physical characteristics (such as eye color, hair color and height)
  • predisposition to diseases (such as breast cancer and hypertension)
  • the way a person’s body metabolizes food, reacts to sunlight, and reacts to allergens
  • the way a person processes information, reacts to stimuli and learns from mistakes.

A person’s genes are so complex, any small change in genetic makeup can influence a person’s development. The most common use of genetic testing for children is to screen for diseases, but as genetic research continues, the practical uses for genetic testing will continue to grow.

Genetic tests are non-invasive and painless. Only a small DNA sample needs to be taken from your child. The source of DNA is usually blood, hair, skin cells or amniotic fluid (for prenatal testing). Your child’s DNA samples are then compared with DNA that has been determined to be “normal” that is, DNA that does not contain genetic markers for disease.

Types of Genetic Testing

There are many types of genetic tests. Some use the DNA from a fetus or a newborn baby. Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling are used to diagnose a child for diseases and birth defects before the child is born, and DNA testing for newborns is almost always done to determine the baby’s risk for disease. Genetic testing for older children is also becoming increasingly popular. After a child has symptoms of a genetic disorder, a test can help the doctor come to a diagnosis.

Genetic testing for older children can help families in a variety of ways. If an older child’s DNA is found to have a mutation and they are predisposed to disease, this information can help both the family and the child react accordingly. They can alter their lifestyle to ensure that they are taking all the steps necessary to prevent or delay onset of that condition. For effective prevention of many genetic diseases, therapy and regular checkups are necessary. Early diagnosis (using a genetic test) can ensure early treatment and better chances of survival.

Predispositions to Disease

Genetic testing is especially important for individuals who are at high risk of developing an inherited disease. People who have family members who have been diagnosed with inherited diseases are determined to be high risk. These people often opt to be screened for certain inherited conditions even if they have not had any symptoms. If their DNA has mutations that have been associated with a particular disease, they can start taking preventative measures to combat the disease or be on the lookout for symptoms to ensure an early diagnosis.

Disease Prevention

Disease risk profiling may determine if a person is at higher risk of developing certain conditions. People who are found to be at high risk for some genetic diseases, such as diabetes, can practice good habits to prevent the disease, such as eating a balanced diet, and exercising. If a woman has had several immediate family members who have had breast cancer, for example, she may choose to have more frequent mammograms.

Information on Ancestry

Genetic testing can conclusively determine a child’s mother, father or close relative. For adopted children, maternal and paternal DNA tests are used to ascertain a child’s biological parents. Genetic testing can also give insight into a person’s lineage. Mitochondrial DNA can be used to determine further ancestry on the maternal side. Y-DNA can be used to determine further ancestry on the paternal side.

Analyzing Your Results From Genetic Testing

Genetic counselors are an important part of the genetic testing process. Even before testing results are known, counselors should be consulted to discuss possible information that may be learned from the test results. Genetic tests can change a person’s life and provide them with information that can empower them to lead their healthiest life possible.

Resources

MayoClinic. (2006). Genetic testing for genetic disorders: Weigh benefits and risks. Retrieved December 6, 2008, from the CNN Web site: http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/FL/00076.html.