Is Genetic Testing Right for You? The Top 3 Benefits of Genetic Testing

The question of whether genetic testing is right for you is arguably very tricky. Perhaps it is also somewhat personal. And rightfully so. I mean, after all, genetic testing is essentially a way to look into the very blueprint that makes you who you are, so why test that? On the other hand, however, genetic testing, by virtue of exploring any potential disease genes you may have, could provide you with information that may cause you a lot of worries. You may, for example, find out that you are genetically predisposed to something that is debilitating, and you did not necessarily need to know about that quite yet. Maybe you are at high risk from cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, heart disease, or other health risks orhereditary diseases and early detection and treatment could make all the difference. Further still, there are those of us for whom genetic testing is a way to find out what needs to be done. In other words, finding out that they are carriers of certain diseases, those individuals will immediately consult a physician and make a plan of how to tackle things. So, while some of us would want to know about the kind of future that our genes tell us ahead of time, others may not want to know and live their lives to the fullest until it is actually time to worry about things.

However, before we go into the top reasons why genetic testing might be beneficial, let’s briefly define what genetic testing actually is and what it entails. Overall, genetic testing is a medical test that looks for changes in proteins, genes, or chromosomes that may be associated with a specific disease or disorder. Depending on the presence or absence of these changes, an individual can find out their chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder. DNA is being collected from either saliva and/or blood, and the lab looks for number, arrangement, and characteristics of the aforementioned changes (either abnormal and/or mutate genes and markers for inherited diseases). There are currently more than 1,000 genetic tests on the market, with more being under development.

Genetic tests are conducted on a voluntary basis, meaning that individuals do not have to have them done. The decision to get tested or not is very personal and also often complex, which is why it is very important to speak with a genetic counselor about the pros and cons that are associated with the situation.

So, depending on which category of personality you fit into, genetic testing may be a great tool for you for a few reasons, three of which are below.

1. Genetic testing can reveal that you have, in fact, a DNA sequence that is a marker for a genetic condition or disease. Rather than panicking, see this as being armed with knowledge with which you can make future decisions. The test can confirm a diagnosis or it can be a powerful screen for inherited cancer markers. For example, the breast cancer genetic markers are BRCA1 and BRCA2. If you have mutations in those genes, you are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer and knowing that can help you decide how to move forward.

Genetic testing can be used to find out about the future of having children

2. Genetic testing can be used to find out about the future of having children. It provides partners who wish to have babies with the ability to find out whether or not their child will have a genetic condition before it is even born. These genetic tests are done on unborn children during pregnancy and they are a powerful screening tool that informs future parents of the possible diseases or conditions their babies are highly likely to develop. Having this knowledge that they are at an increased risk of having children with a genetic condition, the future parents can become mentally and emotionally as well as practically prepared. And while this may be stressful, there is also great relief in finding out that an unborn child is at low risk of having a genetic disease or disorder.

3. Genetic testing allows you to save your family members. Genetic conditions are inherited, which means they run in families. The results of your genetic testing can be very informative for other family members. If they are aware that there is a genetic condition that runs in the family, they are less likely to become misdiagnosed. This saves time, effort as well as stressful situations. This can also be helpful to the family members that are planning to have children, as this means that they are potential carriers of genetic markers they may pass on to their offspring.

Overall, the benefits of genetic testing are powerful regardless of whether the results are positive or negative for a gene mutation. There is comfort in a sense of relief from uncertainty as well as in being able to make informed decisions about health care management. Having the ability to look for markers of future diseases is, in a way, tipping the scale of health in your favor, as it enables you to create or curate a lifestyle that can forego the activation of markers that may cause disease. In other words, knowing that you are at risk of developing certain cancers can guide you into a healthier lifestyle that may result in you never developing the disease. Had you not known about the markers in the first place, you may not have made choices for a healthier lifestyle and the consequences could be detrimental.

Ultimately, you may choose to look at genetic testing as a tool that enables you to not be at the mercy of your DNA. Up until genetic testing became widely available, we used to believe that our DNA is our destiny. With the ability to look into the future of our health, it has taken on somewhat of a different meaning.

Laura Day