Do you remember why Angelina Jolie removed her breasts? Have you ever wondered about whether someone is a part of your family tree? Can you imagine waking up and finding your lost siblings? Genetic testing is the answer to all those questions.
Genetic testing is a medical procedure which aims to identify changes in proteins, genes, or chromosomes. This is especially useful to people with a history of gene-related diseases, such as Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, or cancers. As the scientists find more reliable methods to examine the genes, now the test can be taken by those who show symptoms and the healthy ones alike. Those without specific symptoms can use it to check which potential genes they carry (called the carrier testing). In addition, this procedure is also applicable to fields like forensics and research. We can confirm the identity of an unknown person, find parents or siblings, or determine ancestry.
It is important to note that genetic testing only calculates the risks to develop a disease; it doesn’t guarantee that the disease will or will not happen in the future. Genetic testing also cannot determine how severe the disease will be if it does happen.
The test requires a tissue sample; it can be blood, hair, skin, saliva, or the inside surface of the cheek. The tissue is obtained using a brush or a cotton swab. A test performed on a fetus involves a more invasive procedure as we need to take the fetal amniotic fluid, but the risk of miscarriage is small. At the laboratory, a specific portion of the sample or all of it may be multiplied, stained with colors, and checked under the microscope or other machines. It may take weeks to months before the results come back because of the complicated examination steps.
Because of the nature of this test, many are concerned about the client’s social and emotional conditions. As the test involves serious and often incurable diseases, some may find relief when the results do not show any abnormalities, while others are struggling to accept the outcome of a positive result. A few prefer not to take the test to avoid the information. Those who want to perform it without consulting health professionals can use the direct-to-consumer (DTC) kit which, unfortunately, is prone to misinterpretation and privacy concerns. Several medical associations recommend all clients go through genetic counseling before they do genetic testing. Despite the controversy above, genetic testing can help doctors and patients to prevent or treat diseases early. Obtaining information about one’s genes may encourage the client to take the necessary preventive measures. It can be something as simple as more frequent exercise or a carefully-planned pregnancy, or it can be as serious as other methods, such as the double mastectomy in Angelina Jolie’s case.
Genetic testing is a powerful and helpful tool in this modern era. Just like every other technology which is still under development, however, it must be used with caution. If you are interested in doing a test, please consult your health providers for more information.