The Federal Trade Commission today issued a new “Facts for Consumers” on over-the-counter genetic tests. According to the FTC, some companies claim that their tests can help consumers screen for diseases, evaluate health risks, or suggest treatments.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that genetic tests should be performed in a specialized laboratory, and the results should be interpreted by a trained health care professional or genetic counselor. They also advise that genetic testing provides only one piece of information about a person’s susceptibility to disease. Other factors, like family background, medical history, and environment also contribute to the likelihood of getting a particular disease.
The FTC offers information for consumers in, “At-Home Genetic Tests: A Healthy Dose of Skepticism May Be the Best Prescription,” available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/health/hea02.htm. Consumers should know that, according to the FDA and CDC, at-home genetic tests are not a suitable substitute for a medical check-up. However, if a consumer is considering an at-home genetic test, tips include:
- Talk to your trained health care professional or genetic counselor about whether it might provide useful information about your health, and if so, which test would be best. Make sure you understand the benefits and limits of any test before you buy it – or take it.
- Ask your trained health care professional or genetic counselor to help you understand your test results. Most companies that sell at-home genetic tests do not interpret the results.
- Discuss the results of your test with your trained health care professional or genetic counselor before making dietary or other health-related decisions. Genetic test results can be complex and serious. You don’t want to make any decisions based on incomplete, inaccurate, or misunderstood information.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.