Which genetic tests are out there? A comparison

"Newt's World" podcast explores DNA testing with Sanford Health genetics experts

Cassie Hajek, a doctor in a white coat, holds a stethoscope to listen to an adult patient's chest in a medical exam room.
Cassie Hajek, a doctor in a white coat, holds a stethoscope to listen to an adult patient's chest in a medical exam room.

Dozens of companies now offer DNA testing, even for your dog. How do you choose which ones to trust?

To help answer that question, Newt Gingrich interviewed two Sanford Health genetics experts on a recent episode of his weekly podcast series, “Newt’s World.”

Know what your DNA test covers

First, it’s important to know there are different kinds of DNA testing, said Megan Bell, a genetic counselor for Sanford Health.

At-home genetic tests typically get mailed directly to your house. They often require a swab of the cheek or spitting into a test tube. You then mail your fluid sample back to the company for evaluation, and you get results delivered directly to you.

Each at-home genetic test is different, but each often looks at one or more of these areas:

  • Ancestry
  • Carrier status
  • Health risk
  • Maternity or paternity
  • Traits such as eye color or taste

“Direct-to-consumer DNA tests are not ordered by a doctor, and therefore patients often don’t get to have a discussion with a genetic counselor or their health care provider to discuss what the results mean for them,” Bell said.

By contrast, you can request a DNA test through your Sanford Health provider. Sanford Imagenetics offers DNA testing through a blood test called the Sanford Chip.

Then, if your test indicates you are at risk for a disease, you will get a referral to a genetics specialist to help you understand your results and determine the next steps to take.

At-home DNA tests have more limitations, Bell said.

“Most of those tests aren’t reporting a lot of health information,” Bell said on the podcast. “Lots of times it’s reporting ancestry or a particular trait.”

The Sanford Chip can reveal two main pieces of information:

  1. How you respond to certain medications
  2. What your risk is for certain diseases

Know how to use your DNA test results

Genetic testing can help diagnose patients, said Dr. Cassie Hajek, physician chair for Sanford Imagenetics. It also can answer questions and bring relief for many families.

“A lot of times these families have been on a diagnostic odyssey,” Dr. Hajek said. “Once they have a genetic diagnosis, we put an end to that, and this also allows us to provide more personalized care.”

On the same episode, Gingrich also discussed DNA testing with a genetic privacy and identity expert from Vanderbilt University.

Erin Royer, a genetic counselor at Sanford Health, said patients have lots of questions about how their results are used and stored: Is my privacy protected? Is my data safe and secure? Will companies share or sell my information?

Sanford Health keeps your DNA results in your own private medical records.

“I want people to know what to look for when considering genetic testing, whether from their doctor or not,” Royer said.

Gingrich is a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a current consultant and public speaker. Listen to the episode, “DNA and Your Personalized Health Care.”

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Posted In Genetics, Innovations

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