At-Home Genetic Tests: Health Information for Older People

I'm thinking of ordering a DNA test that I can take at home. I just need to swab the inside of my cheek and send in the sample. Is this a gimmick, or do these tests really work?

Genetic tests look for signs in your DNA that you’re more likely to have particular diseases or disorders during your lifetime. Not long ago, genetic testing was done only when requested by doctors or other health care providers. But recently, “do-it-yourself” tests have become more popular. Typically, you send a blood sample drawn at a clinic or a swab of the inside of your cheek to a laboratory to analyze. Some companies ask you to fill out a questionnaire, too. But according to the FDA and CDC, many genetic tests on the market have no scientific validity, and others may give you results that are vague or meaningful only with a full medical evaluation.

Still, some companies say their tests will tell you how likely you are to get a specific disease — such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or Alzheimer’s. Others claim they can tell you what diseases you’re most likely to get, or how your body might respond to specific treatments. Some go so far as to suggest specific treatments, foods, or nutritional supplements, and offer a customized mix of supplements— usually at an exorbitant price.

Most of the time, your likelihood of developing a disease depends on a number of factors, including diet, lifestyle, and what you’re exposed to. Even an accurate genetic test is telling you about only one factor. No standards govern the reliability or quality of at-home genetic tests. The FDA and CDC recommend that genetic tests be done in a specialized laboratory and that a doctor or counselor with specialized training interpret the results.

If you decide to use an at-home genetic test, talk to your doctor or health care provider about which test might be best, and discuss the results with your provider afterward. Check to see how the company will protect your personal information.

If you decide to use an at-home genetic test, read the privacy policy posted online. It should tell you how the company protects your information. 

Who Cares About At-Home Genetic Tests?

National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference
1-888-346-3656
(TTY: 1-800-735-2258)

FTC
1-877-382-4357
(TTY: 1-866-653-4261)

National Human Genome Research Institute

CDC, National Office of Public Health Genomics

National Cancer Institute
1-800-422-6237
(TTY: 1-800-332-8615)

FDA, Center for Devices and Radiological Health
1-888-463-6332