CONSUMER REPORTS — At-home DNA test kits like 23AndMe have been around for years. But as Consumer Reports explains, although you might take the test for fun, the results can be serious.
About four years ago, Sara Altschule received a 23AndMe 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.
Altschule ended up getting a preventative double mastectomy with reconstruction after her genetic counselor confirmed the 23andMe test results. While Altschule 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, might 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,” said Altschule.
Though some of these tests can help determine if 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,” said Consumer Reports Health Editor Catherine Roberts.
23AndMe says it clearly explains test limitations to users.
While Altschule’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 a 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 isn’t actually related to them at all.
Roberts said, “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.”
“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 DIY DNA test kit might be right for you, as long as you understand what your results may or may not signify.
Consumer Reports would also like to remind you there are very few laws regulating what a company can do with your genetic data once they receive it, so it could be sold to a third party without you ever knowing about it.