Resource Center / Health and Lifestyle / Home DNA Testing: Accuracy and How They Work

Home DNA Testing: Accuracy and How They Work

Learn about home DNA testing with Seniorly. Genealogy enthusiasts have a new tool to discover the truth about family lore: but how truthful are these kits?

By Guest Author · Updated Feb 10, 2022
understanding-the-cost-of-independent-living

Would you want to know if you had a genetic marker for a devastating end-of-life disease? Today’s home DNA test kits promise that they can tell you everything from where your ancestors came from to your genetic predisposition for various diseases. But should you really put a lot of stock in home kits available from genetic testing companies? Are they worth your money? Can they help you make critical decisions about your healthcare? Do you even want to know what they can reveal?

With so many questions surrounding at-home DNA genetic testing and analysis, we dug deeper into how these kits work, the products available, and the pros and cons of giving these kits a try.

How does a home DNA test kit work?

A home DNA test can be easily ordered online, and they’re shipped right to your door. They come with a saliva collection kit, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to provide a good sample. Some products may have you spit into a tube, while others may have you swab the inside of your cheek. Once you’re done, you send back the sample to the genetic testing company. They’ll use the cells from your saliva to analyze your DNA.

Depending on the service you choose, they may use your DNA to reveal your ancestry or to help you find other living relatives. Some products will specifically look at your DNA sequence variations to determine whether you are genetically at risk for developing certain health conditions. Your results may be mailed back to you, or some companies may allow you to easily access this data online.

What DNA testing products are available?

According to the AARP, there are three DNA testing services that are very popular, including:

  • AncestryDNA – You’ve likely heard of Ancestry.com, and they have a DNA test that allows you to learn more about your ethnicity and where your family is from. They have a huge database, which can help you find living relatives with your DNA results.
     
  • 23andMe – 23andMe offers a couple of different genetic testing options. They have an ancestry-only DNA test, but they also provide a health-plus-ancestry kit as well. It not only gives you information on your ancestry, but it can also provide you with information on your risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The test can also let you know if you happen to be a carrier for health problems like sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis.
     
  • Family Tree – Another popular DNA testing kit is available from FamilyTree.com, and their product offers information on your ancestry, genealogy, and history. Depending on the specific option you choose, you can learn more about both maternal and paternal ancestry as well as information on the migration of your family.
     

Other available products on the marketing include:

The pros of using a home DNA test kit

Trying a home DNA test is appealing to many people for a variety of reasons, and a few of the pros to using these kits include:

  • Convenience – There’s no need to visit a lab. You can take the test at home on your own time. This is particularly helpful for individuals who may find it difficult to get out.
  • Affordable – The affordability factor is a huge reason people choose home testing kits today. Although these tests can run between $50 and $400, depending on the exact package you buy, they’re still a cheaper option than traditional genetic testing.
  • Interesting and Fun – These home DNA test kits can actually be exciting and fun for people who want to learn more about their ethnicity and family history. Ancestry reports it sold 1.6 million kits during the four-day Black Friday in 2018 breaking sales records for the same period. It seems like a lot of people probably got DNA test kits for a holiday gift.
  • May Provide Actionable Medical Information – According to NPR, some of these tests can provide helpful, actionable medical information. For example, the company 23andMe recently became the very first to get approved by the FDA to market genetic tests for cancer that can be sold directly to consumers without requiring a doctor’s order.

The cons of DNA health testing

Of course, DNA health testing also comes with a few potential drawbacks, such as:

  • Potential for User Error – Your home isn’t sterile like a lab. With a nonsterile testing environment, Shape.com notes that it’s possible for samples to be contaminated and your test results may not be as accurate when you use a home kit.
  • Results Can Be Confusing or Misleading – Because most home tests don’t offer the same scope and breadth of information used by traditional clinical labs, it’s possible for test results to be misleading or confusing.
  • Results May Lead to Anxiety – Cleveland Clinic mentions that the health information provided by self-test kits may not always be accurate. Sometimes there are false positive results that can lead to a lot of anxiety. On the other hand, a false negative could make you dismiss health concerns that you really need to take seriously. 23andMe requires that the user take a brief tutorial on the accuracy of testing before revealing the results.
  • How Private Is Your Information – Recently, there have been a number of reports around the use of data to solve cold case crimes. While this seems like a good use of private data, is there a concern that the data could be used for less altruistic endeavors and how safe is your data from a breach?

The bottom line: are home DNA testing kits worth using?

Genetic testing can be a lot of fun if you’re only doing it for fun. It’s exciting to learn more about your ethnicity, your family’s history, and even migratory patterns of your ancestors. If you’re interested in your family tree, then yes, these kits can be worth your money.

However, should you try using a home DNA test kit to determine if you’re at risk for health problems? The jury’s still out. Home testing is improving today, although many health professionals continue to be concerned about their accuracy and the potential for user error.

The most important thing to remember is that whether you’re using home tests or working with a genetic counselor, genetic testing results don’t guarantee that you will or won’t end up having a genetic condition. Genetic testing is merely a single piece of the puzzle, particularly when it comes to complex diseases that are affected by multiple genes.

If you do try a home DNA test and it shows that you’re at risk for health problems, be sure to follow up with your doctor or a genetic counselor. This way you can enjoy a more comprehensive understanding of your overall health and take steps that will minimize your risks.

Cynthia Perthuis leads the Senior Care Authority office in New York City after a 30+ year career managing teams in client support and service, sales and relationship management, product and business development. Her own personal experience with her parents and her entrepreneurial background brought her to work in the senior living industry. She worked with her parents between 2010 and 2017 to find the right care, both in-home and assisted living. The stress of helping aging loved ones and working full-time and caring for her own family while living over 1500 miles apart was overwhelming at times. She often wished there was a non-conflicted industry professional to help when facing these life-changing decisions. However, at the end of that process, she also felt she had earned a degree in assisted living and aging issues including the Alzheimer’s disease that affected her father.

Share this article
Tags
HEALTH
TECHNOLOGY
written by:
logomark_4x

Guest Author

Guest authors help us deliver the latest news and insights.
View other articles written by Guest

Sign up for our Healthy Aging Handbook

Seniorly’s Senior Living experts created a comprehensive handbook to help people age happily while ensuring they love where they live. Enter your email address below to receive your copy and learn more about Healthy Aging and Senior Living.*

*By submitting your email address above, you consent to receive occasional email communications from Seniorly, including educational content and tips, newsletters, and other relevant updates and offerings. You can unsubscribe at any time and we will never sell or distribute your email address to a third party. You can view our Privacy Policy here.