March 11, 2008
Experts Warn of “˜Do-It-Yourself’ Medical Tests
Medical Experts are warning the public that many "Ëdo-it-yourself' health tests may be inaccurate and even harmful.
The doctors, in partnership with the Sense About Science charity, have also objected to the way these tests are being marketed to the public, and calling on government to improve regulation of the $200 million industry.
The report comes on the heels of a warning by government advisors last December that private firms should stop offering body scans. The warning was based on a study by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE), which showed an increased cancer risk due to the scans' radiation. It also warned that tests taken outside surgery or hospital settings are not reliable.
The group said many of the tests being offered to the public by private companies looked for the presence of biomarkers. However, the report noted that these tests do not determine the underlying implications of these biomarkers, which are affected by a host of factors, including a person's lifestyle.
The report said the "Ëdo-it-yourself' tests were capable of producing inaccurate results, for instance a pinprick blood test could be invalidated by contamination of the sample. Additionally, some bodily fluids are affected by temperature, and the process of shipping them to the lab for tests could change the samples in such a way as to produce inaccurate tests results.
"Unlike medicines and national screening programs, there is no regulation or requirement for research on the effectiveness of testing," the authors wrote in the report.
"With direct-to-consumer tests, anyone can set up a lab and sell testing."
The experts also urged the creation of a national system to evaluate diagnostic tests and a database accessible to the public that to provides information about performance and usefulness. The authors said that although patients could be confident in the accuracy of NHS tests, there is no evidence about how clinically effective many of them are.
Dr. Danielle Freedman of the Royal College of Pathologists, a co-author of the report, told BBC News, "The public buy 'testing kits' over the counter and via the internet without knowing the limitations of their results.
"There are 'cowboys in vans' on the high street offering for a price a wide range of tests.
"Do the public know whether tests are performed to the same quality standards as laboratories routinely providing this service to both the NHS and private sector?"
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the COMARE report had raised similar concerns, and the government was considering its response to the issue.
The Sense about Science report was developed with the Association of Clinical Biochemistry, the PHG Foundation charity and the Royal College of Pathologists.
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