DNA testing for health reasons is meant to give specific and accurate information so you can make careful and thoughtful decisions regarding your and your family’s health and medical care. Genetic tests are used in the pre-diagnostic and diagnostic processes to identify potential health problems, in the treatment phase to help determine which treatment is best, and in the recovery phase to assess how your body is responding to treatment.
Here are six reasons you might consider getting a DNA test:
You have a family history of a genetic disease and you want to understand whether you are at risk. An example of this would be having a family member with breast cancer caused by the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, which accounts for between 5 and 10 percent of all breast cancers and 15 percent of ovarian cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. Having genetic testing to determine if you also carry this gene won’t tell you whether or not you will get the disease, but it gives you the opportunity to discuss options and allows you the opportunity to monitor the situation and possibly start treatment earlier than if you weren’t aware of your risk.
You want to know if you are a carrier for a disease before having children. Some genetic diseases are passed on to children even if the parents don’t have the disease. It is possible for them to be carriers of a gene without having the disease itself. If you or your partner have a family history of a genetic disease, DNA testing can let you know if you are a carrier of the gene.
Some ethnic groups, such as those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, have a higher rate of being a carrier for certain diseases such as Gaucher disease and Cystic fibrosis, according to JScreen, a non-profit organization that provides genetic screening for people of Jewish descent.
You want prenatal screening for your unborn child. While this is a controversial topic, some parents choose to have prenatal DNA testing to be more prepared for genetic diseases when their child is born. This is different than newborn screening, where all newborns are automatically screened for about 30 known genetic disorders, according to Sarah Witherington, a genetic counselor. Witherington explains that prenatal genetic testing can benefit a child with the RB1 gene, which increases the chance of the child being born with a tumor called retinoblastoma, which can cause blindness shortly after birth. By knowing ahead of time, treatment can begin immediately after birth.
You are ill. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, diagnostic genetic testing can be used to identify the disease that is making a person ill. You and your doctors can use the information from this test to make informed choices on the best treatment plan.
You want to understand how different medications will work to treat your illness. A type of DNA test called pharmacogenomic testing can provide information on how certain medications are processed by your body, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. This information helps doctors tailor your treatment and find medicines that work best with your genetic makeup.
You want to contribute to research about a disease. Organizations that are researching specific diseases might use your DNA to further study a disease. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, some research might directly benefit specific people while other research might help scientists better understand the disease and the effects of the disease on the body, as well as provide information to develop better treatments.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.