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Direct to Consumer (DTC) DNA tests

Direct to consumer (DTC) DNA testing is a relatively new kind of health service. People wanting to use DTC DNA tests should carefully assess test providers' services and accreditation before proceeding.

What is a direct to consumer (DTC) DNA test?

A DTC DNA test is conducted by a DNA testing laboratory and does not require a referral from a health professional. The customer wanting a test deals directly with the laboratory - supplying the sample and receiving the result. The customer does not have to be sick to ask for these types of tests; they are offered on a commercial basis and require payment by the customer.

What types of DTC DNA tests are available?

DTC tests in human genetics cover a range of activities from lifestyle choices to ancestry determination and paternity testing. DTC tests also deal with health issues.

DTC DNA tests offering 'lifestyle' choices usually end up providing common-sense dietary and lifestyle advice that would be available to the customer through other sources. DTC DNA tests related to discovering more about your ancestry determination make claims that need to be carefully evaluated by the customer.

Important considerations apply to paternity testing. These tests involve a number of people within a family, and are often carried out under difficult circumstances. Paternity tests that are carried out inappropriately or incorrectly can cause harm to the families or individuals involved. The accuracy of the test and how it has been carried out may influence whether the information obtained can be used in a court of law. Other issues such as the need to obtain appropriate consent from the individuals involved, access to suitable professional advice to understand the meaning of the results, and professional counselling, are also important.

DTC tests provided for health related issues are of concern because:

  1. The claims made may be difficult to evaluate fully by a person who does not fully understand the DNA test or the implications of the DNA test result.
  2. Any false understandings of the results by the customer have the potential to lead to long term and potentially serious medical complications.
  3. Health professionals are bypassed in these types of tests and so their support, should it be needed, is not easily obtained.

What should I consider if I am interested in a DTC DNA test for health related issues?

Genetic issues are complex. If you are concerned about a genetic condition, NHMRC recommends that you first consult your doctor. In Australia, you and your family should also have access to a broad range of professional advice, support and genetic counselling. These levels of support and advice may not be available from a DTC DNA test provider.

What consumer protection is available when dealing with Australian and/or overseas DTC testing laboratories?

As DTC DNA testing is a relatively new and mostly unregulated industry, customers of these services should exercise caution in choosing a provider.

In Australia, laboratories wanting to offer DTC DNA tests must adhere to Australian regulatory requirements — for example, formal accreditation undertaken through the National Australian Testing Authority (NATA). If the laboratory offering the DNA test is located overseas, it may be difficult to determine the type of accreditation obtained by that laboratory, or how well the laboratory will perform the DNA test.

Disclaimers attached to the testing may clear the DTC DNA testing company of any responsibility if an inaccurate or incorrectly interpreted test result is provided to the consumer. The degree of consumer protection will be even more difficult to determine with DTC DNA tests offered by overseas laboratories.

Finally, how well privacy is safeguarded by DTC DNA laboratories is difficult to determine, and this would be particularly true for laboratories that operate outside Australia.

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Page reviewed: 19 May, 2014