“Here’s What You Need to Know About At-Home DNA Kits”
by Jeanne Erdmann
Real Simple, December 2019
Here is the tweaked pitch on home genetic testing for the Balance section of Real Simple. I can make your deadline for November/December—that’s when companies really start marketing these tests aggressively, encouraging consumers to buy them as Christmas gifts.
Home genetic testing is wildly popular. Just two years ago, 7 million people ordered at-home DNA tests, now that number tops 26 million. Although these totals include both ancestry and health, the type of at-home genetic tests for health risk has changed dramatically. Now, Companies like Color.com offer medical-grade genetic tests from home, test that previously had to be ordered by a healthcare professional. Unlike 23andMe, which spot-checks your DNA, the medical grade tests use next-generation sequencing for a deep-dive into your genes.
This story will offer a practical guide to help readers choose a company, and what to keep in mind when interpreting results. I could also include interviews with some women who have undergone testing to talk about how it affected their lives, and whether obtaining the genetic information was the experience they anticipated.
To make it easily understandable, I would break the story into sections like I have below, and also include some intro text to give background and perspective.
Here’s a bit about me: writing about genetics and genetic testing is my thing. I’ve written a lot about genetics and genetic testing, including a story for the March 2018 issue in Family Circle on genetic testing, called “The Story of You,” I’ve also taken some of these tests myself, and plan to take more.
Genetic Roots Under Your Christmas Tree?
The home genetic testing market for health conditions is soaring. These tests can tell us whether we carry an inherited risk for serious health conditions such as cancer and heart disease, and even predict how we’ll react to certain drugs. If you’re curious about what your DNA might say about your health, you might consider at-home DNA testing. Not all companies offer the same quality test. For example, 23andMe offers a superficial look into some genetic changes that can bump your disease risk. Other companies provide medical-grade testing with actionable results. While these tests can provide consumers valuable information “it’s important to help people know what they can and can’t get out of these tests,” says Mary Freivogel, past president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors. If you’re considering this step for you or your family, here’s what you need to know.
The Benefits of At-Home Genetic Health Tests
For starters, you’ll learn something about yourself. You will learn more about DNA, you’ll also learn more about your own DNA. That’s a good thing. Medicine is already becoming more personalized to your genetic makeup, and that’s where the future is headed. Plus, if the test results show that you carry an increased risk for certain diseases, you’ll be able to take preventive measures, both for you and your family. Just know that there’s no certification for home DNA testing, and the quality can vary. One study found that 40 percent of the disease risks identified by commercial tests were false positives—wrongly saying that someone had a gene variant that increased a disease risk. For example, even though 23andMe follows CLIA practices to generate their reports, the company uses a technology that only spot-checks your DNA, so the results won’t be as comprehensive as companies like Color.com that use medical- grade, next-generation sequencing, for a much deeper dive into your genes.
Risk is not Destiny
Learning about medical risk is a different type of journey than mapping out your family tree, so it’s important to be prepared for the results. As of now, home genetic tests are limited to some hereditary cancers, some types of heart disease, and some genes linked to how your body responds to certain drugs. But none of these are a crystal ball, and it might send you down a path you weren’t expecting. If your test says you have a high risk of heart disease, your doctor may suggest cholesterol medication—and you’d have to weigh the risks and benefits of taking the drug. For some of the cancer results, you or your close family members may need anything from immediate risk-reducing treatment or intensive surveillance. Conversely, a test that doesn’t find any increased risk doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.
Also, depending on results, you may need to talk with your doctor and a genetic counselor. You need to know ahead of time whether the company you’ve chosen offers any type of post-test consultations. We’ve made this choice easier for you in, “The Highest-Rated Home DNA Tests,” a chart that tells you which companies follow CLIA practices, the type of DNA testing used, whether, if any, post-test consultations offered.
It’s Not (Just) About You
At its heart, genetic testing is really about families. The results should be shared with your children, your siblings, aunts, uncles, first cousins, so you can help prepare the next generation. But there are no formal guidelines on how to do this—and much depends on your underlying family dynamics. Genetic test results can be empowering, but family dynamics can be complicated. Genetic counselors can help you with strategies to share test results. To help you with advice, we’ve gotten specific advice and wording from genetic counselors, see “Sharing Results with Your Family.”
Keeping Your Results Private
Your DNA should be yours until you decide to share or give permission for other people to use it, so take the time read the company’s policy on sharing your DNA for research purposes and decide for yourself what you are most comfortable with. You also need to think about insurance. Right now, federal law protects you against genetic information discrimination on the job and for health insurance—but not for life or disability insurance. As you’ll see in “Keeping Your Results Private”, we’ll tell you which companies are great with privacy we can specifically recommend.
I look forward to your reply, and I’ve also attached a few clips.