Docs dissuade patients from home genetic tests

The genetic testing market may be booming, but not all physicians are convinced that the benefits of cracking patients' genetic codes outweigh the drawbacks. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently issued a warning discouraging the practice, the Sun Sentinel reported, due to concerns about the unproven science and unnecessary risks of tests that aim to predict one's genetic predisposition to disease.

"Although genetic profile tests may prove to be important tools in the future, they are not ready for prime time," the College wrote in the opinion, saying there is a lack of rigorous scientific evidence that the tests are valuable and improve clinical care. What's more, ACOG is concerned that inevitable "positive" results in one's makeup could cause undue stress and harm.

Other physicians agree with that view. "It's like the weatherman saying there's a 30 percent chance of rain today," OB/GYN Lanalee Sam told the Sun Sentinel. "There's a three in 10 chance in the next 50 years that you might develop one of the three types of cancers that [variation] may be a marker for."

Because of these risks, a recent American Medical News ethics forum addressed how physicians might advise patients who inquire about ordering genetic tests from a commercial laboratory. In the column, John J. Mulvihill, M.D., of the Children's Medical Research Institute/Kimberly V. Talley Chair in Genetics at the University of Oklahoma, encouraged physicians to discuss with patients what tests they are considering and why. Based on that information, doctors should then let the "four horses" of autonomy, justice, beneficence and malfeasance guide their response, he wrote.

Although ACOG has discouraged the use of home genetic tests since 2008, it does support patients getting genetic testing for certain diseases like the BRCA 1 & 2 mutation that increases the risk of breast cancer, Cystic Fibrosis, Fragile X syndrome and Tay-Sachs disease, CNN reported.

To learn more:
- read the article from the Sun Sentinel
- check out the report from CNN
- see the story from American Medical News
access the opinion from ACOG