Advantages & Disadvantages of Genetic Testing

Written by brenda priddy
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Advantages & Disadvantages of Genetic Testing
Genetic testing looks at DNA and the likelihood of a person contracting a disease. (DNA 3 image by chrisharvey from Fotolia.com)

Genetic testing is a type of test that babies and adults can take to test their chances of developing a genetic disease or disorder. The genetic test looks at genes that have manifested in family members that lead to a disease and tests whether other family members have the same faulty gene. Genetic testing can also determine if a family member is a carrier for a disease. There are both advantages and disadvantages to genetic testing. It is up to each individual person to determine whether genetic testing is right for them or, for a baby, the parents must make that decision.

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Surveillance

Genetic testing provides the distinctive advantage of surveillance. Genetic testing can prove or disprove in some cases, whether or not a person is at a risk for a genetic disease such as cancer or genetic disorders. Genetic testing can also tell if a person is a carrier for certain genetic disorders and diseases. Someone who has the gene that carriers certain diseases can make sure to monitor that gene, so that if a disease does develop, doctors can address it in the early stages. For example, certain genes are linked to cancer and Huntington's disease, among others.

Preparation

The uncertainty of not knowing the chances for a disease can be unsettling. If a person knows his or her chances of contracting a certain disease, then he or she can prepare for the disease by setting money aside and making medical arrangements. In some cases, it may be possible to have surgery before the disease strikes to eliminate the potential for the disease.

Peace of Mind

Knowing the chances for a genetic disease can offer a sense of peace to the individual. The ability to say with certainty that a disease-carrying gene is present or not present is a relief to someone who has had someone in her family who has contracted a genetic disease. Knowing each person’s chances for that disease can prepare other family members and the individual for the future.

Lack of Options

One disadvantage of genetic testing is the lack of options afterward. Even though a person may now know his chances of contracting a genetic disease, there is little that can usually be done to stop the disease before it strikes. In a very few cases, such as in some forms of cancer, pre-emptive surgery can be done to avoid the problem. For example, some women with a gene linked to breast cancer choose to have a double mastectomy rather than risk developing the disease, while others will simply opt for more frequent screening to detect any disease as early as possible. However, with most diseases, there is no way to prevent them from occurring.

Insurance Discrimination

In some states insurance companies frown on genetic testing. If a person has taken genetic testing, some insurance companies may drop that person or raise her rates. Basically, in the insurance company’s mind, a person who has received genetic testing is a high-risk insurance client. Some states, such as Massachusetts, have a Genetic Privacy Act, which prevents insurance companies from raising rates because of genetic testing.

Uncertainty and Psychology

Genetic testing will not reveal all diseases that a person may contract. Even if a carrying or diseased gene does exist, the test cannot predict when the disease will manifest itself. This can be stressful for the tested person. Worrying about when a disease may strike is unhealthy and can damage day-to-day activities and even relationships in extreme cases. Some people may feel they are better off not knowing their chances for disease.

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