It’s always good to take responsibility for your own health. But it’s also recommended to speak with a healthcare professional when doing so. Do-it-yourself (DIY) genetic tests are a good example of the importance of this combined approach.

What are DIY genetic tests?
Mouth being swabbed

Your genes are made up of 6 billion DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) codes. These codes are instructions for growth and development in every cell in your body.

Genes can increase your risk of medical conditions. However, whether you eventually experience a medical condition is due to a combination of your genes and environmental factors, such as a poor diet, smoking and a lack of exercise.

A genetic test identifies the genes that are specific to you. Traditionally it’s involved sending a blood or tissue sample to a laboratory while you’re under medical care. But since the early 2000s, DIY genetic tests have been available that allow you to independently send a sample to a laboratory, usually located overseas.

What to do?

The potential problems with DIY genetic tests include:

  • Inaccurate or misleading results when overseas laboratories don’t follow Australia’s high regulatory standards.
  • Hard to understand results (even if they’re reliable) because, for example, health and disease is often complex and involves weighing up many factors – and your genes may be just one factor.

If you’re considering a DIY genetic test, speak with your GP or a genetic counsellor before making a final decision. You may decide, for instance, that a test isn’t worth doing if the result won’t actually change how you live your life. For example, you still shouldn’t smoke cigarettes, regardless of your cancer risk due to your genes.

More information: www.nhmrc.gov.au (see Direct-to-Consumer genetic testing).

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