From cancer to the common cold, almost every human malady has something to do with genes. In an effort to cash in on our growing understanding of the connection between genes and disease, more and more companies are marketing genetic testing kits directly to consumers. Their promotional materials promise to guide you to a healthier life by predicting your unique risk for developing certain diseases. But buyer beware: while most scientists agree that personalized medicine is on the horizon, many doubt that it's as close as the test kit makers would have you believe, reports the September 2010 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch.
In medical settings, genetic tests are used to identify variations that cause serious health conditions. These tests are usually reserved for people known to be at risk for a specific disease because it runs in their family. Clinicians can also use genetic testing to help them select more effective drug treatments.
Exactly how commercial genetic tests will help is up in the air. These tests are under scrutiny by the federal government, which is concerned that the companies are making unsupportable claims for the value of the tests in making health decisions.
To continue reading this article, you must login
Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.