What to Consider Before Taking an At-Home DNA Test

Approximately 7 million ancestry tests have been ordered by curious consumers, most of those in the past few years. That’s a lot of DNA! While many people may choose ancestry testing to find out more about their ethnic background, that’s just one result that can come from an online DNA test. The tests can also give a glimpse into other information, like physical traits, wellness factors, carrier status for recessive conditions, and estimates of genetic relatedness to others who have also tested. While these results have the potential to empower people with information to make lifestyle changes, important decisions or to locate new family, test results can also raise questions. Where do you turn for answers, especially if you’re a first-time tester?

It’s important to keep in mind some key points as you consider sending in a sample for an ancestry or other direct-to-consumer DNA test.

  1. DNA only tells half of the story
    First of all, no matter what test you take or where you send your sample, be clear on this: DNA is not destiny! Whether we’re talking about an increased risk for developing a hereditary cancer, or finding out about a half-sibling you never knew, a DNA result can supply an important piece to the puzzle. But a DNA test for health purposes can only gauge whether risks go up or down, not whether a disease or a health condition will ultimately develop. And while DNA may be able to identify new family, it can’t determine how you or other family will react to a new addition to the family tree or how relationships will develop over time.

  2. Be aware of who has access to your DNA data 
    It’s also important to find out who will have rights to your DNA data. Your DNA is yours until you decide to share it or give permission for others to do so. Some companies who test your DNA will automatically share your anonymized data with others, like researchers or pharmaceutical companies. Others will give you a choice to opt-in or opt-out. If you download a computerized file of your DNA and share it, the security protections may disappear. If you order an online DNA test, pay attention to the fine print about who might eventually have access to your DNA data.

  3. Take advantage of available resources
    Finally, there are many resources available to those exploring their DNA. Look to the places with experience in providing education and support, if your interest is piqued. The International Society of Genetic Genealogy is a valuable resource for understanding the details of ancestry testing, and genetic counselors are a group of individuals with wealth of knowledge for all things DNA. Online support groups, discussion groups and forums have popped for almost every topic and situation that arises from DNA testing. So arm yourself with resources, prepare for the possibility of the unexpected, and then get ready to spit in the tube!

For more about direct-to-consumer genetic testing, check out this post by my fellow genetic counselor and friend, Susan Hahn, and a more detailed post here specifically about ancestry testing.

Brianne Kirkpatrick is founder of WatershedDNA.com, a tele-consulting practice specializing in areas of ancestry testing and other DNA tests. She recently hosted the webinar “Ancestry and Other Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing:  What to Consider Before Mailing that DNA.” Watch the recording for free here.

*Please note the content of this webinar reflects genetic regulations as of 3/28/2017.

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