Benefits: Genetic testing may be beneficial whether the test identifies a mutation or not. For some people, test results serve as a relief, eliminating some of the uncertainty surrounding their health. These results may also help doctors make recommendations for treatment or monitoring, and give people more information for making decisions about their and their family’s health, allowing them to take steps to lower his/her chance of developing a disease. For example, as the result of such a finding, someone could be screened earlier and more frequently for the disease and/or could make changes to health habits like diet and exercise. Such a genetic test result can lower a person’s feelings of uncertainty, and this information can also help people to make informed choices about their future, such as whether to have a baby.
Drawbacks: Genetic testing has a generally low risk of negatively impacting your physical health. However, it can be difficult financially or emotionally to find out your results.
Emotional: Learning that you or someone in your family has or is at risk for a disease can be scary. Some people can also feel guilty, angry, anxious, or depressed when they find out their results.
Financial: Genetic testing can cost anywhere from less than $100 to more than $2,000. Health insurance companies may cover part or all of the cost of testing.
Many people are worried about discrimination based on their genetic test results. In 2008, Congress enacted the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) to protect people from discrimination by their health insurance provider or employer. GINA does not apply to long-term care, disability, or life insurance providers. (For more information about genetic discrimination and GINA, see http://www.genome.gov/10002328/genetic-discrimination-fact-sheet/).
Limitations of testing: Genetic testing cannot tell you everything about inherited diseases. For example, a positive result does not always mean you will develop a disease, and it is hard to predict how severe symptoms may be. Geneticists and genetic counselors can talk more specifically about what a particular test will or will not tell you, and can help you decide whether to undergo testing.