Direct-to-Consumer Gene Tests Cause Little Anxiety: Study

TUESDAY Oct. 11, 2011 -- With private companies marketing genetic tests -- which measure people's risk for certain diseases -- directly to patients, concerns have risen about people's ability to handle that information on their own.

Although a new study found the mail-in kits, which cost up to $2,500, do not result in excessive worry about illness, the researchers argued that being at very low risk for disease may prompt some users to make worse decisions about their heath.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has questioned the medical benefit of direct-to-consumer genetic tests, advising they only be conducted under a doctor's supervision. In conducting the study, researchers from the Mayo Clinic explored the emotional effects these tests have on patients.

"We looked for evidence of increased concern about disease based solely on genetic risk, and then whether the concern resulted in changes in health habits," said study co-author Dr. Clayton Cowl, a specialist in preventive, occupational and aerospace medicine, and a physician in the Mayo Clinic Executive Health Program, in a news release.

The study, published in the October issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found that one week after undergoing the genetic testing, patients had slightly more anxiety. The researchers noted that people who took the tests were more worried about diseases they didn't know much about, such as Graves' disease, a thyroid condition.

One year later, however, people's fears subsided and their stress level was not greater than people who did not undergo the testing.

Men with a genetic risk for prostate cancer that was lower than the general population were much less stressed about the disease than those who did not undergo genetic testing, the researchers found. Experts warned that patients who learn they are at lower risk for a disease might not make the best decisions regarding their health, such as getting routine screenings for cancer and losing weight.

The authors noted that more research is needed to determine if these consumer-based genetic tests can accurately predict disease.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on genetic testing.

Posted: October 2011


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