British Ethics Group Calls for Regulations on Testing Sold Directly to Consumers

Tests often provide medically meaningless data according to ethics group

With medical technology becoming more and more advanced, we have numerous new medical tests that doctors can use to check for various disease conditions. Some of the new genetic tests can be used to determine the chance a patient might have of developing a serious disease like cancer or diabetes at some point in their lives.

The interesting part about many of these genetic tests is that there is a market for direct sales of genetic testing to people that have no symptoms or reason to worry they might develop a certain disease. A new report by a British medical ethics groups has asked that private DNA testing be accredited and have to live up to certain standards to protect consumers.

The group maintains that many of these genetic tests provide “medically and therapeutically meaningless” results and that these false results could lead the person paying for the tests to pay for further testing that isn’t needed and to needlessly worry about their medical condition. The group, called the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, maintains that the results of many genetic tests are “unclear, unreliable, or inaccurate.” In addition to regulating genetic testing, the group also wants regulations placed on body scanning services using MRI and CT scans.

Christopher Hood, one of the authors of the report publishes by the ethics group said, “The internet is now often the first port of call for people to find out more about their health. People need to know where they can get accurate health information, how to buy medicines online safely and how any personal information about their health posted online might be used.”

The genetic tests are generally conducted using a DNA sample derived from saliva. Google-backed a company providing these direct to consumer genetic testing in Europe back in 2008. The company is called 23andMe. The genetic tests the company sold cost $999 when it launched and claimed to read over 600,000 genetic points on the donor’s genetic makeup looking for potential issues.

Speaking directly about the use of CT and MRI scans, another of the report authors named Nikolas Rose said, “The reliability of these tests is questionable. And even if the tests were reliable, the increases in risk over that in the general population that are given to you by these tests are usually minimal, and in almost all circumstances they have no clinical relevance.”

The group maintains that when a full body scan is conducted of a person with no real reason other than to satisfy curiosity, the amount of radiation the user is exposed to is more harmful than most disease conditions that the test may potentially discover. The tests also often uncover anomalies that are meaningless and cause needless worry for the patient.

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