At-home DNA test kits now reveal risks for disease: Are they accurate?

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - At-home DNA test kits like and 23 and Me are exploding in popularity. They examine a saliva sample and deliver insight about your genetic makeup.

(On a less serious note, watch the video above to learn what your type of ear wax has to do with your ancestry.)

Now 23 and Me is taking it a step further by offering Genetic Health Risk Reports that promise to reveal your genetic risk for diseases like Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease and breast cancer.

Newly approved by the FDA, the direct to consumer test looks for three specific genetic variants, or mutations, in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

These significantly impact a person's risk of developing breast, ovarian and other cancers.

The test also checks for genetic risk for several other diseases like Macular Degeneration, late onset dementia and harmful blood clots.

RELATED: We tested the DNA of Anchors Chris Tanaka and Tiffani Tucker but did not include the Genetic Health Risk Reports. Watch at 11 p.m. when their results are revealed to them live on Cleveland 19 News. 

Jen Gareau's family has a strong history of breast cancer. Many of them carry the BRCA 1 gene.

"I just always had it in the back of my mind that this was something I was going to eventually do because I wanted to know," she said.

Women who test positive for BRCA 1 have as much as an 86 percent chance of getting breast cancer, most often, triple negative, which is the most deadly form.
Thinking of her young daughter, Jen had genetic testing done at the Cleveland Clinic.

"When she said that it was positive, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I cried so hard. I was stunned," said Gareau.

Dr. Shawn McCandless at University Hospital said these tests are accurate and meaningful, and the potential is great, but the results are extremely limited.

"We just don't know enough to make good clinical decisions about it. And in spite of what people will advertise and say the data are just not there yet," he said.

McCandless and Gareau worry that negative results about any diseases from these kits could give some people a false sense of security.

"It doesn't mean that you have a reduced risk of breast cancer.  It tells you absolutely nothing about your background risk of breast cancer except that its not increased because of that one or two variance that they tested for," McCandless said.

"People need to know that it's only testing for the three most common mutations so it makes me nervous that people think they can take this test and clear themselves," Gareau said.

According to Susan G. Komen, the 23 and Me kit does give some consumers another tool to identify their specific risk for breast cancer. It can also be taken without a prescription, making it much for affordable and accessible than traditional genetic testing

"If you don't have that strong family history, and if you don't come armed with the information that you need to prove your case, your insurance will not cover it and it is thousands of dollars, like $5,000-$7,000," said Gareau.

The Parkinson's Foundation also recognizes that this is a positive step toward identifying those at risk, but recommends genetic counseling "to understand what the process may mean for them and their families."

And the Alzheimer's Association does not recommend routine genetic testing for Alzheimer's for the general population.

These kits do not provide a diagnosis of any kind.

Still Gareau said getting results can be empowering.

"You think to yourself almost like I feel lucky, because I can do something about this.  So many women out there that don't. They get this horrible diagnosis and then they have to fight for their lives," she said.

She used her results to make the decision to have a double mastectomy.  And now that at-home kits are available she hopes others will use the results from those tests wisely to promote healthier, longer lives.

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