Genetic Testing Will Not Learn

Genetics is an amazing scientific field thats constantly evolving and presenting new opportunities and challenges. You’ve probably heard all about the benefits of genetic testing, and maybe even taken a DNA test yourself; indeed, genetic test results can be used as an invaluable tool to inform your future, uncover your past, and achieve optimal health through customized plans. However, its important to view your genetic test results as a tool or an indicator, not a predictor of the future. Genetic test results don’t serve as a diagnosis and don’t take the place of advice from your doctor.

If you take a DNA test, you will likely want to meet with a genetic counselor to analyze the results. A genetic counselor can help you interpret the information you receive and help you respond accordingly.

What Genetic Testing Can’t Tell You: The Breakdown

Genetic test results, while useful and oftentimes fascinating are uncertain in many areas. Genetic testing can’t tell you:

  1. Your ancestors names, birthdates or country of origin. DNA tests for the purpose of tracing geneaology are relatively new; your ancestors DNA information isn’t on record, so you wont be able to compare your DNA to that of previous generations. You’ll have to track down information like surnames, occupations and important dates using more traditional methods of family research. However, your genetic geneaology can help point you in the right direction.
  1. Whether two people are related. While your DNA test results can give strong evidence that you are related to another person, this is never an absolute certainty. While DNA tests for paternity are highly accurate, there is still a 1 to 2 percent chance that the results are inaccurate, even when the test is administered correctly.
  1. What your actual risk is for developing a genetic disorder. Genetic testing can tell you if you have the genetic mutation linked with a particular inherited disease or condition; whether or not you will actually develop the disease in question is impossible to predict, and depends on many factors, including your personal lifestyle choices. You can decrease your risk by taking steps recommended by your doctor. Remember that a positive test result is not a diagnosis, nor is it a “crystal ball;” it can’t predict the future.
  1. That you will not develop a certain genetic disorder. Similarly, just because you didn’t inherit a genetic mutation (say, BRCA1, the mutation liked with breast cancer) doesn’t mean that you won’t develop the disease in question. This simply means that you don’t have a heightened risk for developing the disease. In fact, in the case of breast cancer, researchers estimate that only 5 to 10 percent of cases are linked to the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation; the remaining 90 to 95 percent of breast cancer patients do not have an inherited predisposition to the disease. This means that genetic testing can’t rule anything out with absolute certainty.
  1. That your baby will be completely free of genetic diseases and conditions. Amniocentesis is a specialized DNA test preformed before a baby is born to test for genetic abnormalities, as well as to determine whether your baby is a boy or a girl. Currently, amniocentesis can test for hundreds of genetic abnormalities, including Downs syndrome and spina bifida. However, amniocentesis can’t tell you whether your baby will be born with a cleft lip or palate, for example. It also can’t tell you the severity of the genetic disease in question if your baby is found to have genetic abnormalities.
  1. Specific characteristics about your baby, such as eye color, hair color, and predicted height. Currently, doctors do not test for non-medical characteristics such as these when performing amniocentesis. While this may eventually be possible, such tests bring with them a whole host of ethical issues.
  1. Your life expectancy. While a test can provide you with clues to help you have a healthy, active future, it can’t predict your life expectancy. If you’re worried about a family history of short life spans, you can use your genetic test results and the help of your doctor to create a plan for optimum health.

Resources

Baby Center of Australia Medical Advisory Board (2009). Amniocentisis. Retrieved June 7, 2009, from the Baby Center Web site: http://www.babycenter.com.au/pregnancy/antenatalhealth/testsandcare/amnio/.

Fain, M. (2009). How accurate are DNA paternity tests? Retrieved July 7, 2009, from the Ezine Articles Web site: http://ezinearticles.com/?How-Accurate-are-DNA-Paternity-Test-Results