Is genetic testing right for you?


There's a lot of confusion out there about genetic testing, which probably explains why the American College of Medical Genetics recently issued a statement and some guidelines aimed at consumers thinking of paying for a genetic test, according to

Apparently, the college is worried because some folks might order the tests on their own, without a doctor's involvement, and suddenly they're convinced that they're going to die of some terrible disease within the month. They don't say that, of course. They give a dry, very grown-up and responsible commentary:

"Just because a genetic test exists, it does not mean it is right for everyone or even right for anyone," says Michael S. Watson, PhD, FACMG, executive director of the American College of Medical Genetics. "Medical genetic counseling, testing and treatments offer tremendous possibilities for the future of health care and genetic medicine will continue to play an increasing role in the timely prevention, diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders but as in any new and changing field, there is a lot of misinformation out there and more research to be done. Consumers need to be cautious and always involve their health care provider, and in some cases a medical geneticist or genetic counselor, in their decisions about genetic testing."

So if you are thinking about doing any genetic testing, here are their recommendations, please take these suggestions to heart first.

1. A knowledgeable health professional should be involved in the process of ordering and interpreting a genetic test.
2. The consumer should be fully informed regarding what the test can and cannot say about his or her health.
3. The scientific evidence on which a test is based should be clearly stated.
4. The clinical testing laboratory must be accredited by CLIA, the State and/or other applicable accrediting agencies.
5. Privacy concerns must be addressed.

Probably the most important reason to think carefully about doing genetic testing is due to #5, which I'm pretty sure refers to the age-old question: "If I get a genetic test that shows I was predisposed to have a disease, will my health insurance carrier deny me coverage because they consider that evidence of a pre-existing condition?"

And, of course, we know that a health insurance company would never, ever do that.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).