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Medical Research

Genetic Testing: Is It for You?

Have you ever wondered whether you should undergo genetic testing? It’s a complicated decision, and you should consider talking to a genetic counselor before making your choice. Here, the experts from SeniorHealth, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tell you the pros and the cons:

In a genetic test, a small sample of blood, saliva, or tissue is taken to examine a person’s genes. Sometimes genetic testing can detect diseases that may be preventable or treatable. If you’re considering genetic testing, it’s important to understand the benefits as well as the drawbacks.

Genetic testing may be helpful whether the test identifies a mutation or not. Test results can serve as a relief, eliminating some of the uncertainty about a health condition (Editor’s note: For example, whether you carry the breast cancer gene.)

It may also help doctors make recommendations for treatment or monitoring; give people information to use in making decisions about their and their family’s health; and help people take steps to lower the chance of developing a disease through, for example, earlier and more frequent screening or changes in diet and exercise habits.

Additionally, the SeniorHealth experts say, testing can help people make informed choices about their future, such as whether to have a baby.

As for the drawbacks, finding out your test results can affect you emotionally. Learning that you are someone in your family has or is at risk for a disease can be scary. Some people can also feel guilty, angry, anxious, or depressed when they find out their results.

And covering the costs of testing can be a challenge. Genetic testing can cost anywhere from less than $100 to more than $2,000. Health insurance companies may cover part or all of the cost of testing.

The SeniorHealth experts emphasize that genetic testing cannot tell you everything about inherited diseases. For example, a positive result does not always mean you will develop a disease, and it is hard to predict how severe symptoms may be. Geneticists and genetic counselors can talk more specifically about what a particular test will or will not tell you, and can help you decide whether to undergo testing.

Many people are worried about discrimination based on their genetic test results. In 2008, Congress enacted the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) to protect people from discrimination by their health insurance provider or employer. GINA does not apply to long-term care, disability, or life insurance providers.

For more information on health issues, click here to visit the SeniorHealth division of NIH.