February 27, 2009

Do at-home DNA tests work?

Posted: 10:59 AM ET

There’s been lots of buzz lately about the various medical conditions researchers have connected to our genetics. You’ve probably heard me talking about reporting about it on TV from time to time. It’s a fascinating world and one that may help the medical community develop better treatments or preventive care.


But did you ever wonder how well the ‘consumer’ versions of these DNA tests work? How accurate they are? I did. We found over 30 companies that would test my personal DNA. The costs range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. I took four of the test as an experiment. I wanted to see if my predictions to see if my results come back the same. It was a pricey, yet painless process—cheek swab, spit test and mail it in.

Before revealing my at-home DNA test results, let me share some tips to think about when considering a genetic test.

PROS: You can find out if you're predisposed for something like a blood clots. And knowing this, you may consider taking a blood thinner. Or let's say you find out you have a gene that causes breast cancer in women. It doesn’t guarantee you will get cancer, but you could start getting mammograms earlier.

CONS: The biggest con to these tests is that they aren’t always accurate. Also, a positive result doesn't mean you'll develop a disease. The test can only tell you if you have a genetic mutation associated with the disease. Your likelihood of getting it could be low or high and you wouldn’t know.

As scientists discover more variations in our DNA and what they mean, this technology will be more useful as a health prevention tool.

I will admit, I was curious, and excited to see my results. They showed up a month later with no real surprises as far as my genes go. Although it was fascinating that not all the results gave me the same diagnosis. For instance, one test said I’m higher risk of Crohn’s disease, while another said my risk was small.

So alas, the debate continues on. Perhaps at this point, the golden question to ask yourself may just be, “do you really want to know?” One thing is certain, we live in a world where the advancements in science and technology are remarkable. As genetic mapping techniques get fine tune, the sky is the limit in terms of the potential benefits.

Be sure to tune in to Dr. Sanjay Gupta every weekend on HOUSE CALL. You'll find the answers to your medical questions Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET on CNN.

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Filed under: Gupta • Health

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Clark Howard helps you become a wise consumer. We know you're busy, and that's why Clark's tips are quick and effective. He'll arm you with the information you need to make smart choices. During these tough economic times, Clark wants to help you save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off!