Genetic testing - or DNA testing - represents incredible advancements in the medical field. More than ever before, we have the ability to identify diseases and conditions with certainty and in earlier stages, which can lead to more effective treatment. There are upsides and downsides to everything, however, so here are some of the pros and cons of genetic testing.
Genetic testing is done to confirm many different diseases and conditions, as well as screen for genetic conditions before any symptoms are known. It can also determine if a person has a carrier gene that will increase their likelihood of developing a disease or condition in the future. For example, testing for “the breast cancer gene” can help a woman with a family history of breast cancer find out if she is at increased risk for developing breast cancer in the future.
One of the big ways genetic testing can be used is to determine a person’s identity. Because we get our unique combination of genes from our parents, genetic testing can compare DNA to confirm or deny maternity or paternity, which is used when the identity of a mother or father is unknown. Genetic testing can also be used in criminal investigations, such as to identify human remains or confirm the identity of a suspect in a crime when DNA evidence is left.
Peace of Mind
A great thing about genetic testing is that it can offer peace of mind and assuage some of the fears a person may have about their genetic predispositions. It can also offer peace of mind for expectant mothers who receive prenatal testing to screen for conditions like Down’s syndrome.
An unintended, and often unanticipated, consequence of genetic testing can be the emotions it stirs up. Depending on the results, a person can feel depressed or angry. In particular, if a predisposition to a certain condition is identified, it can make a person fearful, paranoid, and depressed. In some cases, the results of genetic testing can lead to social consequences, such as a person being discriminated against or treated unfairly because of a condition.
In general, safety concerns for genetic testing are mild. Simple blood tests and mouth swabs, for example, have very little to no risk associated with them. On the other hand, some genetic testing procedures can come with slightly higher safety concerns, such as the risk of causing a miscarriage when a sample of amniotic fluid is taken for prenatal testing. Although small, the safety concerns are something that should be discussed and understood thoroughly.
Lack of Regulation
Many forms of genetic testing are very regulated and established in medical practices and examined by the FDA. There are many direct-to-consumer genetic tests that are available for people to perform at home and send to a third-party lab for evaluation, and these tests are not very controlled. While they’re generally safe, there is more of a possibility that things can go wrong, such as, most significantly, the accidental misinterpretation of results.
Patrick Lee is a laboratory assistant and expert on genetic testing who loves to write about the changing role of science in our every day lives.