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Interest in genetic testing of children for common disease risk

Analysis of a study published in a science journal   |   By Dr Philippa Brice   |   Published 19 April 2011
Study: Parents' Attitudes Toward Pediatric Genetic Testing for Common Disease Risk
By: Tercyak K.P. et al. (6 authors total)
In: Pediatrics
Link: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/peds.2010-0938v1
What this study set out to do:

To describe parental attitudes towards genetic testing of children for common, adult-onset health conditions and examine factors underlying these views. 

How they went about it:

Adults were offered a test for genetic variants associated with increased risk for eight common health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, and forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease. 219 of those who reported having children under 18 completed an additional survey about their attitudes and beliefs about theoretically using the same test for their children; just over half of these parents said they intended to accept the offer of genetic testing for themselves. 

Outcome:

Parents showed moderate interest in testing and generally thought that the benefits of genetic testing for their children would outweigh the  risks. They were equally interested in information about the impact of genetic and behavioural factors on health. Theoretical willingness to test children was greater among mothers than fathers, and among those who thought their children’s risk of the diseases was higher. 

Conclusion:

Parents showed general willingness to have children tested, despite a lack of evidence on the actual risks, benefits and utility of genetic testing for common preventable health conditions. Health care providers and regulators should take this into account.

Our view:

This study is a small one and has significant limitations, but it raises interesting issues around the potential future role of genetic susceptibility testing for common diseases among children. Lead author Kenneth Tercyak commented: We still need to learn more about how to support families regarding choices on genetic tests and in adopting lifestyle changes, and what role high quality genetic information could play in those conversations" (see press release). However, many others would be strongly opposed to genetic testing of children for adult-onset conditions.

One key question would be whether, if testing of this kind could offer genuine benefit for disease prevention, could testing in the under-18s provide additional benefit? In the shorter-term, the issue of whether parents will want testing in the belief that it does offer health benefits is likely to be a more pressing issue for policy-makers. 

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