As Seen On TV: Genetic Testing

Friday's announcement by Google co-founder Sergey Brin that he has a genetic mutation associated with Parkinson's disease, raised questions about the controversial topic of genetic testing. Brin has brought the dilemma associated with genetic testing back to the forefront.

Genetic tests, which look for changes or abnormalities in a person's genes, are commonly used to test for the presence of an inherited disorder. For information on genetic testing, check out the National Human Genome Research Institute's Frequently Asked Questions. Among many other resources, the institute offers an introductory fact sheet on genetic testing, entitled "Genetic Testing: What It Means For Your Health And Your Family's Health," which explores what you learn from testing and how tests are conducted.

Genetics Home Reference, a body of the National Institutes of Health, publishes a handbook on genetics, which offers detailed information on a range of genetic tests, from newborn screening to carrier testing, as well as links to better understand your results.

The Mayo Clinic offers a comprehensive assessment, weighing the benefits and risk of genetic testing.

With improvements in technology, at-home genetic testing is now possible, but it is also associated with risk. The Federal Trade Commission explains its concerns with some at-home kits. For laboratory tests, the University of Washington, in conjunction with the N.I.H., explains the steps of the process, such as choosing a laboratory, informed consent, interpretation and follow-up.

Genetic discrimination is an important factor to protect against; many who undergo tests may be at risk for discrimination by their employer or health care provider.

But the question still remains: Do you really want to know?

For more, read this NPR commentary by physician Douglas Kamerow on the dilemma raised by genetic testing, and this report on people's lives post-testing. And SHARE YOUR COMMENTS about whether you would or wouldn't consider genetic testing.

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