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Is Genetic Testing Right for Everyone?

January 6th, 2023 | 4 min. read

By Jim Mumper, M.D.

A woman meets with her doctor to discuss whether genetic testing is right for her.

On its surface, genetic testing seems like a no-brainer. Your genetic makeup defines who you are. Why wouldn’t you want to learn all you can about it? With this knowledge, you can fight off diseases and change your lifestyle for the better, right?

In theory, yes. But go beneath the surface. It gets trickier.

  • Why get tested if there is the possibility the result might not be significant?
  • Why get tested if there isn’t a surefire way to treat the result?
  • And why get tested if the result will cause you more unnecessary stress?
These are just a few of the questions you should consider before diving into genetic testing

That’s why, at this time, we don’t recommend genetic testing for everyone. As a leader in concierge medicine and primary care since 2003, we believe that a “one-size-fits-all” mentality to genetic testing is ill-advised.

Why? Who is a good fit? Who isn’t a good fit? How do you know if you’re a good fit? Let’s lay it out for you.

There are four main reasons why genetic testing isn’t right for everyone.

1. Genetic testing should lead to action.

There is little value in genetic tests that do not allow you to take action to reduce or change your risk for a particular disease.

At PartnerMD, we follow the directive of the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics, which states, “Physicians should not encourage testing unless there is effective therapy available to prevent or ameliorate the condition tested for.”

Because of the complexity of issues surrounding this topic, this needs to be a thoughtful process to make sure it provides useful information. If you aren’t going to get any actionable insights from the testing, then it probably isn’t right for you in the first place.

A woman meets with her doctor to discuss if she is right for genetic testing.

2. Genetic testing should not cause undue stress. 

Genetic testing can cause stress for you and your family. Maybe the test says you have a higher risk of cancer. That cancer might not ever develop, but you could spend hours upon hours of your life worrying about it.

Maybe you have a sibling. If you have a higher risk of cancer, they probably do too. Do they want to know? Should you tell them?

These tough questions can strain any relationship, including one with your closest loved ones. Does the cost of a strained relationship with your family outweigh the benefits of genetic knowledge? It’s certainly something to consider.

Just because you test positive and have a higher risk of a disease doesn’t mean you will get the disease. And just because you don’t test positive and have a lower risk doesn’t mean you won’t get the disease.

If you’re a person who will have trouble managing the stress from a potentially scary test result, then genetic testing might not be for you.

3. Genetic testing can be unreliable.

There is very little regulation right now in the genetic testing industry, particularly with the very popular director-to-consumer (DTC) market. This makes it nearly impossible to measure the accuracy of different tests.

Some of those companies offer to test for lifestyle genes that reportedly guide you in diet and exercise. The quality of current evidence to support the significance of these lifestyle genes is marginal, at best.

With possible false tests and unregulated claims throughout the DTC industry, it can lead to serious issues for you as a consumer.

Consider this scenario: a genetic test tells a woman she has an increased risk for breast cancer and she makes the decision to get a double mastectomy based on that result. Should the test have rendered a false positive, the emotional trauma and dollars spent on it cannot be reversed.

So if you do proceed with genetic testing, understand that it might not provide information that you can absolutely count on. The most important thing is to have a doctor and counselor that you trust who can walk you through the results and potential next steps.

4. Genetic testing is most valuable with context. 

Understanding the results of the test is essential, yet the results can be challenging to understand, even for medical doctors. In fact, the field of genetic counseling exists for this very reason, and this is precisely why PartnerMD recommends genetic counseling pre-testing and post-testing.

Before a test, you and your counselor will discuss motivations, possible outcomes, familial consequences, and so forth. After a test, your genetic counselor can help you make sense of the results — as well as your emotions surrounding the results.

If you’re interested in genetic testing, but don’t have qualified genetic counseling to help you understand and react to the testing process, then genetic testing might not be for you.

Who is Right for Genetic Testing?

At this point, it might seem like no one is right for genetic testing.

Rest assured, we believe genetic testing is a valuable resource for many. It just requires a more thoughtful approach than jumping on the internet, ordering a kit, taking a DNA swab, and sending it back in.

We want you to know your motivations and consider the possible outcomes and scenarios before it’s too late. Who is right for genetic testing? We believe anyone who has a situation where the pros outweigh the cons.

Maybe you just want the fun ancestry information. If you are confident in your ability to handle stress and understand that the results have a chance to be inaccurate, then you are a good fit for genetic testing.

Or maybe you are concerned about a certain disease that is prevalent in your family history. You are already concerned about it, and a genetic test could help you live a calmer, more fulfilling life. In that case, you are a good fit for genetic testing.

Or maybe you already have a disease and you and your doctor are discussing treatment options. If there is a scientifically proven genetic test that can inform your treatment, then you are most definitely a good fit for genetic testing.

Genetic Testing at PartnerMD

PartnerMD believes that the highest level of care is individualized, personal, and based on our knowledge of you as a person. We will not promote genetic tests that will either be uninformative or cause you more stress and anxiety about unknown or unlikely medical problems.

If you have questions about genetic testing, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at PartnerMD. In addition, feel free to check out these resources for more information on genetic testing:

Jim Mumper, M.D.

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