Doctors warn that easier access to DNA testing kits has big health implications

Posted at 2:10 PM, Nov 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-08 00:16:13-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - It's one of the first questions you are asked when seen by a new doctor, "What is your family health history?"

An easy enough question for people who grew up knowing their biological mother and father.  A frustrating and sometimes scary question for those who did not.

People like Jordan Nagle.

Jordan was born in South Korea and came to the United States when he and his brother were adopted.

“I remember some of the events," he said. "I remember being held and hugged and kissed all over."

His memories of his biological parents are not as vivid.

While his new parents received papers detailing aspects of Jordan's childhood, they were not given information about his family's health history.

A fact that hit home once he had a child of his own.

"We had a scare when he [his son] was about a year old with a heart condition. That kind of made us nervous because we didn’t know any of my history," Jordan recalled.

With another baby on the way, Jordan and his wife hope a genetic testing service called "23 and me" could provide some insight.

On the market since 2006, the kit is designed to tell you a variety of things based on your DNA. Things like if you have an elevated or decreased risk for Alzheimer's disease or breast cancer, whether you are at risk for high blood pressure, even if you have an increased chance of developing freckles.

A company spokeswoman said as testing kits have grown in popularity, they've shrunk in price. The kit, which once cost nearly $1,000, now sells for $99.

While the kit may seem like the answer to all of Jordan's problems, some doctors urge people interested in testing their DNA to use caution.

Dr. John Quillin, a genetic counselor at the VCU Massey Cancer Center said "23 and Me" may be convenient for people looking for answers, however he said there are certain things to look out for when taking a test.

"A big piece is making sure before you send in a sample that you are evaluating what you're getting out of the testing," said Dr. Quillin.

Dr. Quillin said there are a number of ways to determine if any kind of medical test is a good one.

"Of the genes that the test kit is looking for, how often will it find something going on? How technically accurate is it?" he said.

Quillin also adds that there could be some ethical implications.

"Could someone misinterpret a positive test result as meaning more than it really does?" he said.

CBS 6 brought some of the questions about the test to a spokeswoman for "23 and Me"

Kendra Cassilo told CBS 6's Chelsea Rarrick that the test is not designed to be a self diagnosis for those who take it.

She said results showing a high or low risk factor can help how you care for yourself, but in no way is it conclusive.

Ultimately, she said it's designed to serve as a guide.

Dr. Quillin agrees, but recommends users should take it one step further.

"Anyone who is using a DNA test kit, if there is an option to involve a health care provider even if it's in that company, that they take advantage of that," he said.

And while Jordan waits for his results, he says he'll continue to rely on his faith and the support he gets from the family he does know.

CBS 6 plans to follow up with Jordan after getting his results in a few weeks.

Hear their concerns Thursday on the CBS 6 News at 11.