As medicine continues to advance, so does the testing that becomes available to consumers. I'm not talking about typical lab-work, I'm talking about genetic testing.
Companies, such as Navigenics*, promises consumers an analysis of their "DNA for genetic risk markers associated with a wide variety of important health conditions." Specifically, they claim they can predict your likelihood of developing Alzheimers, various cancers (Breast, colon, lung, prostate and stomach), multiple sclerosis, and diabetes, just to name a few. They also test for some more benign disorders, including: lactose intolerance and psoriasis.
The concept of getting tested for your risk of getting a disease may sound very appealing (After all, if you could find out if you are at risk for a disease and then take action to prevent its onset, why wouldn't you?) The cons, however, seem to outweigh the benefits:
- Accuracy: Many of the tests are not definitively accurate. Further, the tests assess risk, not if you will get the disease. So, is knowing your risk enough? Or, are the tests only good if they can predict whether or not you will actually develop the disease?
- Lack of Action: Some of the diseases these tests analyze, such as Alzheimers, don't have a cure or for that matter, can't be prevented. So, knowing you are at risk for developing Alzheimers isn't necessarily going to help you one way or another. You have no way of being proactive.
- Psychological Impact: Sure, if your test results come back negative, you may feel a tremendous sense of relief. However, if you are unfortunate enough to be told that your tests are positive, you may end up obsessing over the future of your health. Further, if the disease you are at risk for has no cure, then what? Do you become traumatized knowing you might develop a terminal disease?
- Prevention: Let's say you are predisposed to develop breast cancer. You can change your diet to eat more cancer-fighting foods (fruits and veggies) and also can do more regular screenings and mammograms. Again, this won't necessarily prevent you from getting the disease completely, but you might be able to diminsh your risk.
Personally, I would rather live my life from a preventative standpoint anyway. So, I'm not convinced I would want to know whether or not I might get a disease. However, as medicine advances, these tests may become more accurate and definitive.
So, would you take a genetic test? Why or why not? Would knowing your risk be enough? If you knew you were at risk for developing a disease, what would you do? What would you do if there was no cure?
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* Navigenics is just one of many companies that provide these services. Some companies look at your genetic potential of developing or passing on other diseases and disorders such as autism. Many of these companies allow you to test from the comfort of your own home by sending in a cheek swab or a spit sample. The tests cost between a few hundred dollars and a few thousand.