What are the benefits and risks of direct-to-consumer genetic testing?

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing has both benefits and limitations, although they are somewhat different than those of genetic testing ordered by a healthcare provider.

Benefits

  • Direct-to-consumer genetic testing promotes awareness of genetic diseases.

  • It provides personalized information about your health, disease risk, and other traits.

  • It may help you be more proactive about your health.

  • It does not require approval from a healthcare provider or health insurance company.

  • It is often less expensive than genetic testing obtained through a healthcare provider.

  • DNA sample collection is usually simple and noninvasive, and results are available quickly.

  • Your data is added to a large database that can be used to further medical research. Depending on the company, the database may represent up to several million participants.

Risks and limitations

  • Tests may not be available for the health conditions or traits that interest you.

  • This type of testing cannot tell definitively whether you will or will not get a particular disease.

  • Unexpected information that you receive about your health, family relationships, or ancestry may be stressful or upsetting.

  • People may make important decisions about disease treatment or prevention based on inaccurate, incomplete, or misunderstood information from their test results.

  • There is currently little oversight or regulation of testing companies.

  • Unproven or invalid tests can be misleading. There may not be enough scientific evidence to link a particular genetic variation with a given disease or trait.

  • Genetic privacy may be compromised if testing companies use your genetic information in an unauthorized way or if your data is stolen.

  • The results of genetic testing may impact your ability to obtain life, disability, or long-term care insurance.

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing provides only partial information about your health. Other genetic and environmental factors, lifestyle choices, and family medical history also affect the likelihood of developing many disorders. These factors would be discussed during a consultation with a doctor or genetic counselor, but in many cases they are not addressed when using at-home genetic tests.