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3 things to consider about at-home genetic testing for health

Woman opening a package on the couch - At-home genetic testing
At-home genetic testing has become a reality with many options now online and in stores, but these tests bring concerns.

What can a genetic counselor do for you? Meet our team and request an appointment.

Genetic testing used to be something only a genetics provider could order. Now at-home genetic testing has become a reality with many options now online and in stores.

While this seems like a good thing, Marshfield Clinic genetic counselor Anna Cisler, M.S., C.G.C., said there are limitations.

“I think for people who are looking for a test that is going to direct their decisions with their health care – at-home genetic testing kits are not really the best option,” Cisler said.

At-home genetic tests are better suited for learning about ancestry or genetic traits.

The biggest problem with at-home genetic testing kits is that many of the kits leave interpreting the results to you, the purchaser of the test.

This can lead to interpreting the results incorrectly or being overwhelmed by all of the results that are provided.

Cisler said she and her colleagues have had patients bring in results of at-home tests looking for more information. Patients do this either to verify that a test result was correct or for help with the confusing results.

What to look for

If you want to try an at-home genetic test, there are several things you should check before ordering the kit including:

  • Does the service provide a genetic counselor? A genetic counselor provides insight into the results to make sure you fully understand your health risks.
  • Are there any hidden fees? Some at-home genetic tests have an initial cost and then additional fees to get the results. Make sure you understand all costs associated with the test.
  • Look at reviews and accreditations. Make sure you are purchasing an at-home genetic test from a reputable source and they are accredited by the College of American Pathologists (CAP) or Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA).

At-home genetic testing may not be for you

Many health care systems like Marshfield Clinic provide genetic services.

When completing a genetic evaluation at Marshfield Clinic, a genetic counselor like Cisler is by your side through the process. They assess if testing is recommended for you, review the possible outcomes and help you decide which test you should take or if you really want to test. The genetic counselor also interprets and explains the results.

“Most people do end up having questions about what exactly they were tested for,” Cisler said.

She also can take personal and family health history into consideration, which provides a better picture of your health risks. There are many unknowns with genetic testing, so genetic counselors provide a complete look at more than the genetics. They also help you stay informed if new information becomes available about your test result.

In-person emotional support doesn’t come with a kit

While genetic testing is a powerful tool to test for syndromes, cancer risk and cardiovascular conditions, Cisler said sometimes the information discussed and learned through a genetic evaluation can be difficult to process emotionally.

We are trained to help those who may experience stronger emotions that can be associated with learning information about one’s genetic background,” she said.

Genetic testing through a health care provider may be covered by insurance if there is a medical necessity for testing. If you have questions or concerns regarding whether or not genetic testing may be right for you, talk with your primary care provider to determine if a referral to medical genetics would be appropriate.

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