Consumer Reports shares warning about at-home DNA kits

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- At-home DNA test kits like "23 and Me" have been around for years.

In fact, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey, about 20% of Americans have taken a genetic test.

But experts have a warning concerning the do-it-yourself tests.

People use the kits to find answers about their family origins or to understand a potential health issue.

As Consumer Reports explains, while some 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 changed 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," she explained.

Altschule ended up getting a preventative double mastectomy with reconstruction after her genetic counselor confirmed the 23andMe test results.

She is grateful she took the test but understands how similar results for others could also carry a responsibility.

"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.

And while some tests can help determine if you are likely to develop diseases such as breast cancer or Alzheimer's disease, they could also give you a false sense of relief or fear.

"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. But be aware results can also be confusing, misleading, or upsetting.

In the Consumer Reports survey, about 10% said their reports contained unsettling information. News that someone thought to be a biological relative is not 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," said Roberts.

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

Consumer Reports says few laws regulate what a company can do with your genetic data once they receive it.
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