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Are Popular At-Home Genetic Kits Misleading? 

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Relatively inexpensive genetic test kits, such as 23andMe and Pathway Genomics, are becoming popular. But choosing an at-home kit over a laboratory test could lead to potentially risky consequences, a new paper warns.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health surveyed 1,026 consumers who had used either a 23andMe or Pathways kit. Both companies claim to be able to provide accurate information about a person’s genetic health risks, ancestry and other quirky traits, such as the ability to curl your tongue. But neither kit evaluates genetic risk of medical disorders the way that a clinical laboratory does.

Tests ordered by a physician look at specific genetic sites that are closely associated with high risk of developing a medical disorder.  Home kits look at many different, individually low-risk genetic sites and calculate an overall likelihood of a particular disorder.

And there’s the aftermath: When results came back, only 35 percent of the home-kit users discussed the results with a health care provider. The majority of consumers were interpreting -- or misinterpreting -- the conclusions by themselves.  

Those consumers who did discuss their genetic results with a healthcare provider were more likely to report that they understood their medical results and felt more strongly that the medical information could be used to improve their health.

It's worth noting that a large part of the data obtained for this study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine Monday, was from surveys sent out by 23andMe. Both 23andMe and Pathway Genomics also disclosed that they provided non-financial support to the study’s researchers.

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