The Doctors: Should you get genetic testing?

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There’s no simple yes or no to this one: Genetic testing helps show if you’re at risk for developing diseases such as colon cancer, type 2 diabetes or Huntington’s disease. It can give a glimpse into your future. To help you decide if you should look, here’s what you need to know:

How genetic tests work: They examine your DNA, looking for large or small alterations in your genes that may cause illness. For people with a family history of certain conditions, predictive tests can show if there’s a higher chance of getting the disease before symptoms appear. Genetic testing also can be used for prenatal screenings, to confirm a diagnosis or determine medications.

The pros: If you find out you’re at risk for diabetes, you could make lifestyle changes to help prevent it from developing. Learning of an inherited predisposition to breast cancer may mean you consider frequent screenings. For conditions such as Huntington’s disease, there are no preventive steps, but test results might shape decisions on family planning or career choice.

The cons: The tests can’t tell if you’ll show symptoms, how severe they might be or if the disorder will progress. If the test is negative, that doesn’t guarantee the disease won’t develop, and could give a false sense of security. A positive outcome doesn’t always mean you’ll get the disease — and the news could raise stress levels.

Should kids be tested? Newborns — yes, the benefits outweigh the risks, say experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics. The groups advise against testing children for diseases that won’t affect them until adulthood unless early treatment is essential.

At-home tests: Most kits work the same. Send in saliva or swab the inside of your cheek, and get back information. But these results aren’t a complete picture: Environment, lifestyle and family history factor in. And there’s no way to know the accuracy. Consult a doctor or genetic counselor before taking any at-home test.

— The Doctors is an award-winning TV show. Check local listings.The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork, and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check for local listings.


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