Is commercial DNA testing worth the price?
February 5, 2008 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Are commercial genetic DNA testing companies worth the price tag?

My family has a horrible history when it comes to a multitude of diseases. Cancer, Diabetes, Pre-Lukemia, Schizophrenia, and the list goes on...

23AndMe offers a $1000 dollar kit where you spit in a tube and send it to them and they can find what potential risks you have to look forward to in life.

Now me, being 21, I am doing my best to prevent any of the problems my family has been known of having. But I really wanted to take it a step further and find out what I'm specifically at risk for.

Is it worth it?
posted by Schuby to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's understandable to want to be prepared but don't forget that just because you might have a genetic predisposition toward a certain illness, doesn't mean that you'll actually get it. So how useful is the information, really?

You're already doing what you can to prevent diabetes (eating healthy and keeping your weight down) I presume. Something like shizophrenia you can't do anything about. If I knew I had a gene set seen in schizophrenics I would be a wreck in my early 30s which is the typical age of onset. It could add a lot of stress in your life when there might be no reason for it.

Presuming the test is accurate, I would think very carefully about taking it. I have similar family history as you and I don't see the benefit in "knowing".
posted by red_lotus at 8:10 AM on February 5, 2008

I was told that onset schizophrenia occurs between 18 and 21.

But I guess, in theory, it could happen anytime.
posted by Schuby at 8:24 AM on February 5, 2008

you're right about age of onset, I was thinking about a different illness. my bad!
posted by red_lotus at 8:43 AM on February 5, 2008

It is my opinion that they are not currently worth the money unless you have a known risk of a rare genetic disorder. We don't have enough information on which risk factors are important to make the tests useful yet. We also don't know how to translate that knowledge about risk factors into treatments or preventative actions.

So companies like 23andMe can tell you "This SNP means that you have slightly higher risk of diabetes". So what does that information do for you? Well, pretty much nothing. The genetic counselors can tell you to eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, but you should be doing that anyway - you don't need a 1000 dollar test to tell you that.

The big payoff is going to be 5-10 years down the road, when these mutations begin to be better understood. Then we'll know which mutations are really important, and even better, many of them will be druggable targets. Until then, the only reason that you should get a test is if you have spare cash laying around and want to satisfy your curiosity.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:02 AM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

My son developed schizophrenia at 26: the window is wider than 18 to 21. For females, the window is wider still, well into their 40th year. Environment seems to have a great deal to do with the onset of symptoms: substance abuse, for one, seems one of the triggers of psychotic episodes, so SNP's are only part of the story.

Genetic testing can be helpful for specific cancers (breat and ovarian), while preventive medicine is more useful at this stage for others (colon cancer and colonoscopy, for example or Type II diabetes and proper diet). Testing should involve a geneticist and a genetic counselor able to explain the results, which are not as simple as " you have this gene, you risk is this%"

Some diseases such as triple repeats require genetic counseling before undertaking the test. I would suggest an appointment with a genetic counselor or a geneticist before having any tests done. ( A lot are associated with pediatric hospitals and medical schools)

I do not understand the term pre-leukemia: can you explain?
posted by francesca too at 1:57 PM on February 5, 2008

If you wouldn't be financially strained by spending $1000 and you'd be more at ease regardless of the results, then I'd say, yes, it's worth it. If you think you'd find something debilitating that you can take active steps to significantly reduce your chances of getting, then I'd also say it's worth it (in hospital bills alone!). It's the spending lots of money to learn about something you have very little ability to impact and that only adds to your worries that I don't think is worth it. So only you can do that calculus.

I've looked into dna/genetic testing for my immediate family (and 23andMe in particular as well as some other services), and right now I don't think it's worth it for me--even with histories of breast cancer and leukemia in the family. I have enough written and oral medical family history that I can get a glimpse of my genetic chances of things and neither is effectively treated in advance of actually developing it. For instance, I wouldn't get a preemptive mastectomy given the way BC has materialized in my family--though I suppose with a different history and the dna test I might consider it--I'd rather cross that bridge if I get to it. In the meantime I've made lifestyle changes that may reduce my chances of getting BC and are generally healthy things to do anyway. I also have privacy concerns about most of the players in this market, and 23andMe in particular, which for now offset anything I think I'd gain in medical knowledge. I'm going to wait a bit and see how data gets used by these companies.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:22 PM on February 5, 2008

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