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DNA testing - Do we really need to know everything?

Published : Tuesday April 3, 2012 | Posted in : General Health
dna test

These days DNA testing can reveal a huge amount about our future health; this type of testing is known as genetic predisposition testing and is able to tell you if you are at an increased risk of most diseases. However, apart from the really serious genetic diseases that can affect people, do we really need to know all the diseases we are likely to get and if we did know, would it change anything?

In the field of research, genetic predisposition testing can help scientists understand how diseases work and can help them identify specific genes and gene mutations of diseases in order to help them develop more targeted treatment. Recently US scientists managed to identify a number of gene mutations through genome sequencing which will better enable them to treat these mutations with medications similar to matinib, ruxolitinib and sunitinib, which are currently being used for other types of cancers.

This is quite significant as with traditional DNA testing related to disease predisposition, most cancers can’t be identified because they are mostly the result of mutations that form later in life and not as the result of inherited genes. This, however, leads me to my main question. Do we as the general public really need to know our predisposition to diseases, if some of them are unavoidable? I completely understand the value of DNA testing such as this in a laboratory setting, as this aids the development of more targeted treatment. However, I wonder if I’ll benefit from knowing my risk of getting Alzheimer’s diseases, arthritis or heart disease?

Most commercially available tests also don’t tell you that much, meaning; they can only provide you with an indication of how much more at risk of developing a particular condition than the rest of the population. However, if your risk to develop a disease is low or not indicated, then it’s not because you’ll never get a particular disease, it just means that you are no more likely to develop something than the general population, meaning that you still have a risk. As Dr Bert Vogelstein, geneticists involved in a recent study into the value of DNA mapping for the general population said, every person is likely to have some kind of risk to develop at least one disease.

For many people DNA testing can be hugely helpful, and can help identify mystery illnesses or help parents make decisions about whether they are willing to have another child if a serious genetic disorder is a possibility. However, I doubt whether it’s useful to do a DNA test to check for general disease predisposition, if anything it would just increase paranoia and maybe even for no reason at all. Yes, it might be possible to potentially avoid or push back the start of an illness, but ideally we should be living our lives as healthily as possible, without the continuous fear that each time you forget where you put your keys, it’s the start of your downhill slope into dementia. If anything, I think it might make matters worse.

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