Georgetown Genetic Counselor Offers Insight on Direct-to-Consumer DNA Testing Kits

Illustration of a DNA strand

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WASHINGTON (December 20, 2018) — You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why, DNA tests are coming to town.

The DNA testing kit has become a popular holiday gift, with 100 million people expected to have used a direct-to-consumer (DTC) DNA test by the year 2020. However, “you better watch out” is right, and it may be wise to understand the pros and cons of shipping your saliva across the country to be analyzed by a DTC company.

According to Beth N. Peshkin, MS, LCGC, professor of oncology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and director of cancer genetic counseling at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, there are a few considerations to make before gifting or using one of these kits.

While learning about your ancestry, family origins, ethnicity breakdown and relatives can be fun, it is also possible to find out unexpected information. “Discovering you have half-siblings you didn’t know about, for example, could raise some questions you didn’t want to ask,” says Peshkin.

Peshkin also says that there is a mix of information that a person can receive from a DTC company and it is not always reliable. While some information can “warrant a discussion with a genetic counselor or health care provider,” other information garnered from the test can prove to be “wrong or misleading.”

She says, “You might think it’s cool to learn about your genetic wake-up time, but may not be prepared to learn about your risk for cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.”

While seemingly less exciting, Peshkin recommends talking with your family members about their health history. Discussing information shared by family members with your doctor could be more accurate and helpful in the long run.

Lastly, if privacy is important to you, Peshkin doesn’t recommend sending out your DNA to a relatively unknown source. “You may think you’ve gotten a great gift, but paying someone to take your DNA who will then sell it makes you the generous one!”

Whether you decide to give someone a DNA kit or you receive one yourself, remember to tread lightly, Peshkin says. If you want more information on your health history or your genes in general, but are wary of trying a DNA testing kit, you do have other options. “Reach out to someone like me, a genetic counselor, if you need some help,” says Peshkin.

Peshkin reports having no personal financial interests related to DTC DNA testing kits.


About Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center — the only cancer center of its kind in the Washington, D.C. area. A part of Georgetown University Medical Center and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, Georgetown Lombardi seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Connect with Georgetown Lombardi on Facebook (Facebook.com/GeorgetownLombardi) and Twitter (@LombardiCancer).

About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic health and science center with a four-part mission of research, teaching, service and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.” The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. Connect with GUMC on Facebook (Facebook.com/GUMCUpdate) and Twitter (@gumedcenter). Connect with Georgetown University School of Medicine on Facebook (Facebook.com/somgeorgetown), Twitter (@gumedicine) and Instagram (@GeorgetownMedicine).