Can DNA test kits be a window to future health problems?

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Many of us worry about our health and our own mortality, but what if there was a test that could help you prepare for warning signs in your body before you ever develop symptoms? (KFSN)

Many of us worry about our health and our own mortality, but what if there was a test that could help you prepare for warning signs in your body before you ever develop symptoms?

Say a DNA red flag for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease or if you carried the gene that causes baldness - would you want to know?

A company called 23andMe offers DNA kits you can take at home to test for various conditions. Mike Byas of Fresno purchased the kit because he was curious about his family history. He admits the information he learned from his personal health report was useful but not something he's ready to base his medical future on.

"If I was doing a test specifically to find out if I had an illness, I think I'd probably rely on my doctor and the testing for what the symptoms I have right now than for something I may potentially develop five years down the road," he said.

Here's how it works: you can pick up the $200 kit online or at your local drug store, send off your saliva sample to the company's bay area headquarters where its tested for thousands of markers that could be associated with over 60 diseases and traits.

But genetics specialist Dr. Joseph Shen of UCSF Fresno warns the 23andMe test is not a diagnosis.

"A critically important information point that needs to be understood is that are these results are showing whether you have the disease versus are you at increased risk of developing the disease. Which is not the same thing as saying you're guaranteed to have the disease," he said.

23andMe has over a million customers. The company's mission is to take the DNA findings and cross reference them with medical research to not only help your own future health care but the shared information could eventually lead to cures for multiple diseases

Action News reporter Jason Oliviera spoke to 23andMe specialist Jhulianna Cintron via Skype.

"In terms of health reports, it allows the individual to take a more active role in their health," she said. "So, that's definitely a huge benefit - knowing something you might not have known had you not taken the test from 23andMe."

But there are also concerns about privacy and what might happen to a person who knows too much about their DNA future after all the results could be great news, but what if they're not?

"Once you get the result, and if it shows you have the disease you can't undo that you can't un-see that result," Shen said. "And also once you've crossed that bridge your mental state is obviously different in terms of long term things you should be thinking about."

So what should you do? Most people agree there is a role personal genetics companies can play, but many believe the current testing is still very limited.

"I don't know if I would want to go to my doctor with this report and say hey look it says I have a fever or have a chance of getting it," Byas said. "I think I'll just have to accept it as a novelty at this point."

Novelty or perhaps an important tool to better prepare once you know if a life-threatening condition might be in your future.

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