Is genetic testing during routine medical checkups necessary?

Avatar By Karen Saltos | 2 years ago

According to an article published in the Annal of Internal Medicine, genetic testing should be a routine part of a medical checkup. This type of screening could identify up to 4 million people in the United States who are at risk for cancer and heart disease.

The author, Dr. Michael Murray, is a geneticist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He stopped short of arguing that every patient who visits a doctor’s office today should get a genome screening for genetic diseases.

However, Dr. Murray acknowledged that doctors do not know what most genes in the body do, limiting the benefits of genetic testing for average patients. He says genetic testing could be extremely valuable for a small subset of patients.

“A conservative estimate is that, unbeknownst to them, at least 1 percent of the U.S. population has an identifiable genetic risk for cancer or heart disease that could be detected and clinically managed via a (genomic screening) approach,” Murray wrote.

Aedin Culhane, a research geneticist at Harvard, said that Murray’s estimate of the number of people with testable, dangerous mutations is credible. Still, she says, there are good reasons to be concerned about increasing the role of genomic screening in routine medical care.

First, doctors are still working out how to implement screening data. According to Culhane, doctors are not prepared to interpret genetic tests in a useful way.

She says the second issue is private companies have too much power and profit motive in health care. In addition, she argues that these businesses have too little concern about patient privacy.