Wall Street Journal Examines Proliferation of Genetic Testing
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday examined the "growing battery" of genetic tests, many of which require only the drawing of blood, available to patients in doctors' offices to determine susceptibility to disease. According to the Journal, there are now genetic tests for 1,004 diseases, more than three times as many as six years ago, and the number is expected to "easily double again" in the next five years. However, genetic tests do not "usually produce a straightforward 'yes' or 'no' result," and it is "unclear what people can do with the information [from the tests] once they have it," the Journal reports. To deal with the increase in genetic tests and the questions that surround them, medical centers have "rushed" to add genetic counselors, who help patients determine if they should get a test, interpret the results and answer questions about treatment and insurance coverage, according to the Journal. The Journal reports that there are 2,200 genetic counselors currently working in health centers, an increase from 1,000 a decade ago. The Journal also provides "the latest thinking" on genetic testing for some diseases, summaries of which are provided below.
- Colon cancer: Genetic testing should be restricted to adults in families where gene mutations are known to be causing the disease.
- Breast and ovarian cancer: Genetic testing should be restricted to patients who have a relative in whom a gene mutation that causes the cancers has already been identified. Genetic testing also may be appropriate for people who have several close relatives that have one of the cancers and for Jewish women of eastern and central European descent.
- Type 1 diabetes: Genetic testing is not recommended because the tests give no indication of when the diabetes might arise, and no preventive therapy has been discovered.
- Alzheimer's disease: Genetic testing is not recommended because the tests give no indication of when the Alzheimer's might arise and no preventive therapy has been discovered (Waldholz, Wall Street Journal, 12/3).