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Online Genetic Testing Appears to Have Benefits

Lung cancer assessment allays some concerns about how patients interpret results, researchers say

TUESDAY, June 30 (HealthDay News) -- Online genetic testing for lung cancer appears to offer some benefits to patients, according to U.S. researchers who evaluated the use of an online test among 44 smokers.

"Up until now we have had a clear model for genetic testing. You see a professional genetics counselor, undergo a battery of tests and that professional helps you interpret your results," Saskia Sanderson, who conducted the study while at the social and behavioral research branch of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, said in a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research.

"That model is coming under increasing pressure as more and more genetic information is generated, and as a greater number of genetic tests become available on the Internet," Sanderson added.

"What we found was encouraging in that people who got these online genetic results recalled them correctly, and no one regretted having taken the test, though it is important to remember that this was a small group of select smokers and that others may respond differently," said Sanderson, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of genetics and genomic sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

The online test examined in this study assessed the presence or absence of the GSTM1 gene. The absence of the gene has been associated with a slightly increased risk of lung cancer. Half the smokers in the study were missing the gene, and all of them correctly identified themselves as "higher risk." Of those with GSTM1, 55 percent accurately identified themselves as "lower risk," while 41 percent interpreted their results as "average risk."

The patterns of accurate interpretation remained six months after the participants received their genetic test results, which suggests that they retained the information, the study said.

According to the researchers, the participants said they found the test results to be believable, trustworthy, easy to understand, relevant and important. Those who learned they had a higher genetic risk for lung cancer did have a short-term decrease in confidence that quitting smoking could reduce their risk of lung cancer. However, all the participants decided to use at least one of several smoking cessation aids.

The study is published in the July issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

"Genetic information is complex, and there is a risk that providing unfiltered information will result in heightened worry and misinterpretation of results," Jamie Ostroff, chief of behavioral science services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and an editorial board member of the journal, said in the news release.

"This pilot study found no harm in undergoing these tests and underscores the importance of conducting future research as to how to best educate smokers about gene-environment risks," Ostroff said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about genetic testing.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, June 30, 2009

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