Genetic testing is beginning to emerge as a viable medical option, and the opposing teams are lining up. On one side stands the medical community, all a-flush with new possibilities for diagnosing and heading off illness–not to mention a myriad of new things to bill for. On the opposite side stand all those who believe that genetic testing presents yet another opportunity for big brother to insert himself into our lives — and in the process, to use the resulting information against us.
According to its proponents, genetic testing allows for the possibility of patients taking precautionary measures before becoming ill, ultimately saving money — not to mention lives. For instance, a patient who learns he has a strong predisposition to colon cancer might have more frequent colonoscopies, be put on colon-cancer preventive drugs such as NSAIDs, or even undergo prophylactic removal of most of the colon. And so, genetic testing might of real benefit…or so say its proponents. But according to a recent article in The New York Times, many who might benefit from genetic tests avoid taking them because they worry that if they the results are positive, their insurance company will cancel them or increase their rates. They also worry that their employers will find a way to eliminate them from company health plans — or even from their jobs.
Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health, says, “It’s pretty clear that the public is afraid of taking advantage of genetic testing. If that continues, the future of medicine that we would all like to see happen stands the chance of being dead on arrival.” (To say nothing of the individuals who might be dead on arrival if they don’t get the information about their genetic vulnerabilities early enough.)
Although the insurance industry by and large denies that it discriminates against subscribers based on genetic test results, evidence indicates otherwise. According to the Times, “A recent study by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute found that …in 7 of 92 underwriting decisions, insurance providers evaluating hypothetical applicants said they would deny coverage, charge more for premiums or exclude conditions from coverage based on genetic test results.”
But medical arguments aside, there is one good reason you might consider having genetic testing done yourself, independent of your doctor so you can keep the results private. Tests start at about $100. You can use the results to tweak your personal health/supplement regimen so that you can guard against conditions that you’re vulnerable to. For instance, let’s say you discover that you have a genetic predisposition to kidney stones. Instead of doing two kidney flushes a year, you might want to up the number to six, increase the amount of water you drink, and reduce your consumption of meat and high-oxalate vegetables such as spinach, rhubarb, and lambsquarters. Or, if you discover you have a vulnerability to emphysema, you might want to regularly take respiratory boosters such as proteolytic enzymes with Seaprose S; teas of mullein, uva ursi, and coltsfoot; lobelia tinctures; and horse-heal (elecampane). And as for any tendency towards colon cancer that might show up, incorporating supplements such as red raspberry seed extract and curcumin might make sense.
You can pretty much guarantee that you have a predisposition to some condition; all of us do. With that in mind, you might want to know which goblin has your number and to take steps to ward it off to the best of your ability. You just might prevent the early onset of disease in many cases, even if you’re DNA predisposes you.
PS: A bill intended to prevent insurance companies from denying policies or raising rates based on genetic test results already has passed in the House, and now is pending in the Senate.