The Guardian recently published an article which discusses the incorporation of genetic testing to detect diseases into routine health care. Matt Hancock, the health secretary of the NHS, is calling for genetic tests for common cancers and heart disease to begin immediately. (NHS, which stands for National Health System, is the state-funded care system which guarantees all British citizens care.) Hancock developed this opinion after learning from a commercial genetic test that he is at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. He views the testing as a “game-changer for cancer screenings”. The idea of routine genetic screening is not without criticism. Some worry that because genetic tests have been largely developed using genetic data from whites with European ancestry individuals of other ethnic backgrounds will receive inaccurate results. Some professionals also argue that genetic testing creates unnecessary stress and confusion. While genetic testing can be helpful, experts are not recommending it for every individual at this time as the accuracy is unknown.
Integrating genetic testing into routine care is not an idea I am particularly fond of. I do agree that unnecessary testing can lead to confusion and stress. The average individual does not completely understand their results, and this can cause them to believe things that may not be true. An elevated risk for cancer or heart disease does not translate into a cancer diagnosis or a heart attack. I also see a large cost associated with testing all individuals. In countries with government funded health care the cost is probably not a big deal, but in countries like the U.S. where health insurance varies from person to person it is. A genetic test, that might not be necessary, could cost individuals hundreds of dollars. This is not practical. As a future healthcare provider, I will advocate for further genetic testing if there is a family history and I will remain opposed to routine genetic testing.
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