Genetic testing, or DNA testing, is a way you can test your DNA for genetic disorders. Over 900 tests are available, and can be used for testing for genetic or chromosomal diseases in unborn babies, testing to see if a person carries a gene for a disease that might be passed on, and even to help you determine your ancestry! Medical DNA screening using these types of tests has been developed for more than 1,700 diseases.
Types of Genetic Testing. This article does not attempt to review all types of genetic testing, but a few of the more common tests are described below.
Forensic. If you watch any kind of crime television, you’ve seen the detectives (or members of CSI) swabbing the cheek of the suspect for DNA. Forensic testing can be used to rule out (or implicate) a suspect, identify a victim, or determine if two people are related (for example, paternity testing.)
Diagnostic. This form of testing is used to look for genetic and chromosomal conditions. It can be used to confirm a diagnosis or rule out a condition. However, researchers have identified only a small part of the genetic composition of most diseases, so this form of testing is not always helpful.
Carrier. If you have a history of a certain disease in your family, and so does your spouse, you can both have tests done that will discover if you are both carriers of the gene for that disease. This can be a factor in deciding whether or not to have children for some couples.
How it Works. Genetic testing can be done by using samples of blood, skin, hair, amniotic fluid, saliva or other samples. For mail-in testing, the purchaser fills a vial with spit and mails it back to the company to be analyzed. You will have your results in anywhere from two to eight weeks, depending on the company.
Something to Consider. DNA testing can be ordered by your physician or you can buy an “at-home” kit that you can mail in for results, as noted above. If you choose, for whatever reason, to have an analysis of your DNA done on your own, understand that there can be risks associated with this type of genetic testing. There is no strong Federal regulation for overseeing the marketing of home genetic tests. In fact, out of the hundreds of “do-it-yourself” DNA kits available, only a few have been approved by the FDA. There are laws that prevent insurance companies and employers from using your genetic information against you, but none that prevent the negative effects misinterpreting DNA tests can have on your life. So if you choose to have any kind of genetic testing done, you may want to consider getting a genetic counselor to both help you understand your tests and advise you how to move forward.