From Angelina Jolie to your neighbor, it might feel like everyone you know has had genetic testing. And that’s because there are plenty of reasons to have it done. “Genetic testing can help people make more informed health decisions across all stages of life,” says Michelle Strecker, genetic counselor at Invitae. “Results can help tailor screening and monitoring tests for an individual’s risk of disease, particularly with respect to issues like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Genetic testing can also provide answers to those with family health questions, including starting a family or wanting to help guide a healthy pregnancy. If a result shows that a person has a genetic condition, it can help with accurate diagnosis and possible treatment. Genetic testing can provide information about your family’s past, present and future.”
But as genetic testing is getting even more popular, it also seems to be getting even more confusing. Myths abound, so we asked Strecker to separate fact from fiction. Before you spit or swab, here’s the truth on five common genetic testing myths.
Myth #1: Genetic testing is very expensive
Surprise! It can actually be affordable. “Historically, genetic testing was expensive,” Strecker says. “But thanks to technology improvements and the ability to drive the cost of testing down, today’s genetic tests are much more affordable — hundreds instead of thousands — and accessible. Patient assistance and sponsored testing programs can also help bring prices of genetic tests down. Additionally, if one of our patients receives a positive test result, their blood relatives may get family variant testing at no additional charge.” To get a sense of cost, for example, Invitae’s testing is in-network for more than 250 million people in the United States, and many of their tests have a $100 or less co-pay. For patients without insurance coverage or who choose not to use it, they also have a patient-pay price of $250.
Myth #2: It isn’t covered by health insurance
While policies differ depending on the health insurance provider, most plans will cover the costs of genetic testing when it is recommended by a doctor. “We’ll work directly with a patient’s insurance company to coordinate coverage and payment, as we strongly believe genetic testing should be affordable and accessible to everyone,” Strecker says. “We also offer an online cost estimator that patients can use to get a personalized estimate prior to ordering a test.”
Myth #3: Testing can be a long process
Actually, most tests can be performed from either a saliva or a blood sample. That means it’s quick and painless. “The process is extremely simple,” Strecker says. “Patients will provide a saliva or a blood sample, which can be done at a doctor’s office, or for saliva samples, from home. Results are ready in about 10 to 21 days on average. Patients can work with their doctors to develop an actionable health plan based on their genetic test results, and if a more in-depth discussion is desired, patients can also speak with one of our genetic counselors.”
Myth #4: It’s only for people who are pregnant or have a family history of disease
“While those individuals should certainly undergo genetic testing to learn more about their health risks and potential risks for their future families, research shows that 1 in 6 healthy individuals in the U.S. have medically actionable health disorders and may not know it,” Strecker says. “What’s more, approximately 80% of children born with genetic disorders have no family history of their condition. Genetic information can inform healthcare decisions across all stages of life for so many more people than are currently tested. We think it should be a standard part of care, similar to taking a blood test or checking cholesterol levels.”
Myth #5: You can’t change your body’s path
People may want to avoid genetic testing because they think they can’t do anything about certain results. But in this case, ignorance isn’t bliss, and you might be able to take action. “Genetic testing is a personal choice, but knowing your own health information and understanding how your genes could impact your health down the line can be incredibly empowering for an individual and their family,” Strecker says. “Tests can provide information that help healthcare providers make appropriate choices for optimal medical care. Often, the earlier you know your risk, the more concrete steps there are to address it.”