April 19, 2011

Parents Say Yes to Genetic Testing

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Parents offered genetic testing to predict their risks of common, adult-onset health conditions say they would also test their children, according to a new study.

"The findings of our study should remind clinicians and policy-makers to consider children when regulating genetic tests," Kenneth P. Tercyak, Ph.D., associate professor of oncology and pediatrics at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of Georgetown University Medical Center, was quoted as saying. "These tests usually don't offer a clean bill of health and can be hard to interpret even in the best scenario. They identify incremental risks for many common diseases. Most people carry some risk based on a combination of their family history, genetics, and lifestyle. A child's unexpected test results could trigger negative reactions among parents and children and lead to conversations at the pediatrician's office that providers aren't prepared to have."

Tercyak says the group of parents studied that were most interested in the test for themselves were also interested in having their child tested. In fact, parents made little distinction between the pros and cons of testing for themselves and for their children -- generally favoring the information and believing it could lead to improved health maintenance, disease prevention, and other personal benefits during childhood and later on in the child's life.

Several professional organizations advise against predictive genetic testing in childhood for adult-onset conditions when the information has not been shown to reduce disease or death through interventions initiated early in life. However, Tercyak says, "Genetic testing for common disease risk could usher in a new era of personalized medicine. Someday, this type of information could help jumpstart conversations about lifestyle risks and ways pediatricians can help parents and children reduce risk through healthier eating and exercise habits and avoiding tobacco and other substances. We still need to learn more about how to support families regarding choices on genetic tests and in adopting lifestyle changes and what role high quality genetic information could play in those conversations."

SOURCE: Pediatrics, published online April 18, 2011