The one test that can improve your health today

(BPT) - When you provide just one sample of your DNA, researchers are able to use it to learn more about your health history, assess your chances of contracting certain diseases and even gain a better understanding of the importance family history can play in your health outlook. It sounds futuristic, but it is all very real. It's modern genetic testing, otherwise known as genomic sequencing, and it represents one of the most important tests being used today to improve health outcomes.

To better understand genomic sequencing and how it can help you lead a happier, healthier life, Dr. Richard Sharp, director of the Biomedical Ethics program at the Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine, offers these five things you need to know about this groundbreaking preventive treatment.

1. Genomic sequencing can be tailored to your specific concern. If you're interested in pursuing genomic sequencing, you have more testing options today than ever before. Researchers can use your sample to analyze a large number of different genes and assess your lifetime risks of developing a whole range of different diseases. They can also narrow the set to specifically measure your risk of developing certain cancers. Finally, they can even look at individual genes to determine your risk of developing traditional genetic diseases.

2. Common fears about genetic testing may be misplaced. "Many patients wonder, 'If I undergo genetic testing and it reveals that I have this risk of developing disease, is it possible that I might lose my job, that I won't find a new job, or I won't be able to get health insurance?'" says Dr. Sharp. Fortunately, laws are in place to alleviate those concerns. In the United States, current legislation protects people from allowing their genetic information to be used against them by employers or insurers.

3. Genetic testing may uncover unexpected information as well. Your test to determine your risk of developing breast cancer may also shed light on your risks for other diseases such as Alzheimer's. These so-called secondary findings may or may not be reported to you based on the lab and clinician you work with, so it's important to discuss how secondary findings will be handled before having your genetic test done.

4. The benefits of genetic testing extend beyond merely analyzing your disease risks. As the science of genetic testing continues to improve, its uses do as well. Today, genetic testing is being used not only to identify a patient's risk of contracting a certain disease but also to understand how the person's body metabolizes drugs, and even to avoid the potential for future negative reactions to certain drugs.

5. Your genetic testing may be covered by your insurance. "Many forms of genetic testing are covered by insurers, although like with any new technology or diagnostic test, there can be gaps in coverage," says Dr. Sharp. "The Center for Individualized Medicine at Mayo Clinic has been very interested in trying to find ways to demonstrate the value of genetic testing so that a large number of payers will feel comfortable covering that kind of test."

To find out more about genomic sequencing and other research initiatives, please visit the Center for Individualized Medicine at Mayo Clinic. For journalists interested in speaking with Dr. Richard Sharp, please email your request to newsbureau@mayo.edu.


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