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23andMe DNA service now detects cancer risk. But is it reliable?

When dealing with cancer, decades of research has shown that this terrible disease is quite complex and it doesn’t impact everyone in a similar way.

See, cancer risk and your individual DNA are inextricably linked and even with the same conditions, no two individuals will have the same path. Your unique genetic makeup will always contribute to your predisposition to developing cancer.

Thankfully, with all the technological advances achieved in the medical fields, cancer detection and prevention is not as difficult as before. With today’s cancer detection tools, it’s possible to attack cancer in its early phases before it’s too late.

And even better, this technology is even trickling to regular consumers with do-it-yourself home DNA testing kits. But are these products reliable enough? Let’s take a look.

New colon cancer risk testing

Consumer genetic testing company 23andMe announced that it has finally received a clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide its customers with information whether they have genetic variants that could raise their risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The test looks for two gene mutations linked to MYH-associated polyposis, an inherited condition that causes colon polyps to develop, which can lead to colon cancer.

If left unchecked, 23andMe wrote that having these gene variants increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer to between 43% and 100%. However, if the presence of these gene variants and the increased risks are detected early enough, they can potentially be life-saving.

The test will be part of 23andMe’s $199 Health and Ancestry spit test and will be available to customers who are 18 years old and older. These no-prescription, do-it-yourself kits require customers to send back a self-collected sample of their saliva for DNA testing.

Fun fact: 23andMe is named after the 23 pairs of chromosomes that humans get from their parents.

23andMe Health + Ancestry Service

Various tests are already available

The colorectal cancer risk test is not the only health and medical-leaning products that 23andMe is offering.

The company has already secured FDA clearance for genetic tests for Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and breast cancer.

In November 2018, the FDA also approved 23andMe’s report that provides information about how someone may respond to certain drugs.

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Still no guarantees

Are these tests fool-proof? Not necessarily. Although these tests can inform customers who already have higher-than-average risks for developing certain types of cancer, there are still no guarantees.

Why so? Well, these simple tests still can’t provide the full picture of someone’s state of health. For example, even if you test negative for these specific mutations, you can still develop these conditions depending on your lifestyle and diet.

The same goes for people who test positive —  lifestyle and other health factors may be enough to put them in the clear.

And with colorectal cancer, only 5% of cases are considered hereditary, and most of these are linked to another condition known as Lynch syndrome. Unfortunately, 23andMe’s colorectal cancer test does not detect Lynch syndrome risks.

Additionally, these mutations also exist in 1 to 2% of the entire population but not all of these people will develop colorectal cancer.

Ask your doctor

But still, these genetic tests can still provide valuable insight into an individual’s risks and predisposition towards certain diseases which, in turn, can help them make the necessary preemptive lifestyle decisions to lessen the chance of developing the disease.

And as usual, these consumer-level genetic testing kits are not replacements for full medical tests.

If you do take any of these genetic tests, it is recommended that you take your results and reports back to your doctor for proper interpretation and direction.

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