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Posted at 12:25 PM ET, 04/25/2011

Does genetic screening make sense for kids?

If you had the opportunity to submit your child to a genetic screening test that might predict his or her likelihood of developing lung, skin or colon cancer, type 2 diabetes or another chronic illness as an adult, would you do it?

That’s the provocative question researchers probe in a study published this morning in the journal Pediatrics.

As increasing numbers of adults embrace direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing for themselves, it’s evident that many people want to know more about their own risks for developing conditions that have genetic underpinnings, especially for conditions for which interventions (such as lifestyle changes) could reduce those risks.

Science hasn’t established clear benefits to such screenings, though the underlying sentiment is that early identification of risk could lead to interventions to prevent or delay onset of the disease.

The matter takes on added weight when applied to children, for whom extremely early interventions could be possible. But the prospect that genetic screening of children leads to better health outcomes for adults has not yet been tested.

Parents in this study were asked whether they’d be willing to subject their children to a genetic screening tool that would assess their risk for the diseases listed above plus osteoporosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. They were also asked to weigh the benefits and risks of such testing.

Among the 219 parents participating, mothers were more inclined to be willing than fathers, as were parents who believed their children to be at increased risk of disease.

Parents who said they would be willing to submit their children to genetic testing also tended to focus on the positive potential outcomes: They thought they’d find the results reassuring, or they intended to make changes in the child’s life to improve his or her odds based on what they learned.

Therein lies the danger. Those willing parents seemed less likely to have considered the impact of negative findings, the emotional or psychological toll they might take and the frustration at knowing about the risk without any guarantee that interventions would help.

From the study:

Parents in this study more readily anticipated the positives of testing versus its negatives, and those holding the most favorable attitudes toward testing were also the most willing to have their child tested. This could leave parents unprepared and likely to experience regret after testing. From a counseling perspective, providers could help parents by “preliving” the experience of receiving their child’s genetic test results to rehearse responses to different outcomes.

What’s your feeling about DTC genetic testing in general, and of DTC genetic testing of children in particular?

By  |  12:25 PM ET, 04/25/2011

 
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