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Attitudes to Genetic Testing - How Much Do We Really Want to Know?

Dave NicholasA Gen Re survey of attitudes to genetic testing found that most people are open to being tested for genetic conditions, believing that it will help them to manage their health better. Many indicated they would have a genetic test if it would give them a better understanding of any health risks they might face, mostly to allow early medical intervention. Some wanted to understand what risks they might pass along to their children while others would have a test if there was a “good reason” such as family history or existing illness.

Those who didn’t want to be tested were reluctant about being burdened with knowledge about diseases about which they believe they could do nothing; they felt a test was unlikely to be useful in the absence of a clinical problem or history of genetic conditions in their relatives.

Their caution is understandable since finding indicators for disease doesn’t guarantee disease will develop. Today’s genetic markers don’t identify highly penetrable disorders with 100% sensitivity; they are no more helpful than standard clinical approaches.

It remains unclear what genomic science can contribute to our understanding of common hereditary factors for heart disease, cancer or diabetes. Much of the information in personal genetic code is uninterpretable and of uncertain clinical significance based on current knowledge.

This is likely to change. Genomic information will, in future, be routine in healthcare and what is now being envisioned as “precision medicine”. The idea of what genetic information comprises is itself evolving. As genomic medicine becomes mainstream treatment for breast cancer, melanoma and leukaemia, a more precise description is emerging.

Sequencing 100,000 individuals’ genomes in the UK will create a vast genetic dataset. It is clear that as this research advances, more will be learned from sequenced data. Eventually everyone’s data will be sequenced – the challenge is to do good things with the information.

The material contained in this article has been prepared solely for informational purposes by Gen Re. The material is based on sources believed to be reliable and/or from proprietary data developed by Gen Re, but we do not represent as to its accuracy
or its completeness. The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

About the author: Dave Nicholas is Chief Underwriter, based in Gen Re’s London office.      

Gen Re, a Berkshire Hathaway Company, is one of the leading Life/Health reinsurers in the world, with a global network of branch and subsidiary offices in key reinsurance markets.

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Last updated 25/10/2016