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Do At-Home Genetic Tests Tell Too Much and Explain Too Little?
Date:4/2/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, April 1 (HealthDay News) -- At-home pregnancy tests can tell you unequivocally in minutes whether a baby is on the way and if it is time to call your doctor.

But, at-home genetic tests -- which may offer tantalizing clues about future health risks -- are still in their infancy, and genetic counselors are concerned that the results may puzzle or even panic consumers who don't seek professional guidance.

The explosion of direct-to-consumer genetic tests over the past several years has made it seemingly simple to test for a wide variety of medical scenarios. A swab of the cheek or a vial of blood can discern whether one is a carrier of an inherited disorder such as cystic fibrosis, for instance, or predict the risk for diseases such as breast cancer or Parkinson's. Newer tests purportedly predict how people might respond to a specific drug or medical treatment.

But shelling out several hundred dollars or more for one of these tests -- which are widely available online -- does not equip consumers to understand the findings or their repercussions, genetic counselors say. Because people might base medical decisions on the results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided this month to restrict the tests on a case-by-case basis.

"To me, it's still very much in the recreational realm," said Caroline Lieber, a genetic counselor and director of the graduate program in human genetics at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, N.Y. "The concern I have is the majority of the people feel knowledge is power, whereas most haven't thought through the implications at all."

The U.S. Human Genome Project, begun 21 years ago to map out which genes are responsible for both physical and functional traits, led to unprecedented knowledge about how genes affect people's propensity for dozens of traits and conditions.

But few predicted at the outset the complications that c
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