JUDD JONES: Is Genetic testing a good idea?

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Genetic testing is turning the corner on pre-screening technology in many ways. Imagine the benefits of knowing ahead of time your health risks based on genetic precursors that could be passed on to your offspring. Also consider how you could design a diet and fitness regimen to stave off certain cancers or keep your health at such a level to slow or stop inherited gene mutations that lead to a crippling illness.

Healthcare professionals are finding many benefits to genetic testing and their research and study is literally changing how they prescribe many treatment aspects. Take breast cancer, for instance. Genetic testing can help identify complete generations within families who may be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This same genetic testing can also identify a treatment plan for a person already fighting breast cancer basing their outcome on genetic markers that will respond better with one type of treatment over another.

Genetic testing has been used for a long time in the medical and research fields, but it is relatively new for the home consumer market. Every year, more and more companies are offering hundreds of different home-based tests for consumers to experiment with. The questions that are on the minds of health care providers, insurance providers and even our government is whether all this genetic testing is a good idea. Let’s face it, just because your genetic testing shows you may be predisposed to a specific medical condition, it does not mean you will develop the identified illness in your lifetime.

Let’s take a look at one of the scariest conditions I believe anyone could be faced with during the aging process. Alzheimer’s is frightening in ways that go beyond pain and suffering. People who suffer from Alzheimer’s lose themselves, who they are and their families lose them long before death comes. If genetic testing comes into play and you find the APOE-e4 Alzheimer’s risk gene, is knowing good or bad? Can you take preventative action or do you just get to sit on this idea for years wondering if Alzheimer’s will ever develop? The answer to all this is mixed, but there is promising research that could make knowing about the existence of certain genes in your makeup something actionable.

Genetic testing can reveal everything from traits toward balding, macular degeneration and hearing loss, to whether an athlete’s muscles are genetically tuned toward fast twitch or slow twitch. Gene testing can also find markers for far more invasive issues such as cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s disease, breast/ovarian cancers and ALS.

For athletes and very active people, genetic testing has opened a Pandora’s box of information about their potential athletic ability. Imagine your grandfather was an Olympic swimmer and so you are wondering if your child has certain genetic tendencies that would put the child on a fast track toward future Olympic games. The question to reflect on is twofold. Is it right to assume genes will make your child win the gold? Is it even accurate that genetic testing can predict ability? Again facing the obvious, since genetic testing cannot predict with 100 percent accuracy if you are going to get sick because you have certain genetic markers, it is equally doubtful that genetic testing will be 100 percent accurate that your child is the next Olympic superstar.

Genetic testing direct-to-consumers is very new and a very hot topic with health care and health insurance providers. As this segment of the industry grows, consumers may start to question the ethics, privacy concerns and legitimacy of knowing you have a potential time bomb lurking within your physical makeup. Can law enforcement use your genetic tests to make DNA from a crime scene? Can genetic testing be used in some future unfortunate turn of events to discriminate against certain people? The various concerns tied back to genetic testing put the somewhat unregulated growth industry in need of very set ethical guidelines and there are very smart people working on this very aspect.

So that brings this back to you and I, the base consumer. Do we jump in and see where our ancestors come from, or do we dive deeper into the genetic testing pool and see which types of fast twitch muscles we have? Or perhaps change our plans on having children due to information from testing?

Currently in the U.S., there are over 70,000 genetic testing products being marketed. This is a big business and it could have an even bigger impact on health care. There is no doubt the pros are most likely equal to the cons around genetic testing. I am sure it will not be for everyone, and for those of us that like to try new things, this could be interesting, informative and even life-saving. It could just as easily be the beginning of someone’s worst nightmare, and heaven forbid a false positive changes how someone lives their life.

I am neither pro nor con on genetic testing and like I always say, everything in moderation. Only you and your family will know if genetic testing is the right direction to take to address a specific question or concern you may have. I think it is just fair to point out that there is a lot to consider before sending in one of the 70,000 types of genetic tests from the comfort of your home. Is knowing better than not knowing? I guess it really depends on being well-informed before ordering your home testing kits.

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Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation and Certified Health Coach.

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