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Looking at DNA testing kits and what you should be prepared for

Posted at 8:44 AM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 08:44:34-05

(WSYM) — With a little spit and a postage stamp, you can have your DNA analyzed, unlocking mysteries about you and your family. The results may even be life-changing.

While all of this sounds exciting, Consumer Reports says it's best to keep your expectations in check.

About four years ago, Sara Altschule got a 23 & Me kit as a holiday gift. The results she got back would change her life forever.

"I, unfortunately, got my test results back which did show that I carry the BRCA2 mutation which increases my risk of developing breast cancer by quite a bit and ovarian cancer," Altschule said.

She ended up getting a preventative double mastectomy with reconstruction after her genetic counselor confirmed the 23 & Me test results. While she is grateful that she took the test, she can see how for others, a positive result could be a burden to family members with the news that they too may carry the mutation.

"Once you get your results that probably means you need to inform people in your family that you either got it from one of your parents and that could affect your siblings, that could affect your cousins," she said.

Though some of the tests can help determine fi you're likely to develop diseases such as breast cancer or Alzheimer's, they could also give you a false sense of relief or fear.

"While a positive result from these tests can mean you do have a higher risk of a certain disease - a negative result doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out of the woods, as there could be other variants that can cause that disease not detected by the test," Consumer Reports' Catherine Roberts said.

23 & Me said it clearly explains test limitations to users. While Sara's story is a great example of how these DIY DNA tests can be helpful, others may find the results confusing, misleading, or upsetting.

In the Consumer Reports survey, about 10% of people who used these tests said their reports contained unsettling information, such as the news that someone thought to be a biological relative is not actually related to them at all.

“If you think these kits are going to give you a complete picture of your ancestry and your health, you’re going to be disappointed. And there is also the possibility that it could reveal information you may not even want to know about your family," Roberts said.

“Even though for me it was a good experience, I think you have to be ready emotionally for something like that," Altschule said.

Bottom line: A DNA test kit might be right for you, as long as you understand what your results may or may not signify.