Childhood Genetic Testing Gets High Marks From Parents

Is genetic testing of children a good idea? Parents seem to think so. New research shows that more than half of parents offered tests to predict their risk of developing common adult health conditions would test their kids as well.

But experts caution that gene tests, which are now widely available at drug stores and online, can sow confusion and needless alarm - or false reassurance.

"These tests usually don't offer a clean bill of health and can be hard to interpret even in the best scenario," study author Dr. Kenneth P. Tercyak, associate professor of oncology and pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center, said in a written statement. Most people carry some risk for common ailments, based on a combination of family history, heredity, and lifestyle, Tercyak said.

The study published online April 18 in the journal Pediatrics - involved 219 parents who were offered genetic testing to gauge their vulnerability to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and cancer of the colon, skin, and lung. The parents who were most interested in being tested themselves were more interested in having their children tested too - thinking that the information would lead to improved health for their children.

That may not be the case.

"The assumption is the tests are conclusive...and nothing could be further from the truth," Dr. Robert Saul, senior clinical geneticist at Greenwood Genetic Center in Greenwood, S.C. "I thought it was an important study because it shows that we - the medical genetics and pediatric communities - have a lot of work ahead of us to impart information to parents to make sure genetic tests will be used appropriately and judiciously."