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Genetic Tests Coming To A Drugstore Near You

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Walgreen's plans to sell over-the-counter genetic tests.
Rebecca Sheir
Walgreen's plans to sell over-the-counter genetic tests.

By Rebecca Sheir

Genetic testing is coming to the corner drug store. Shoppers at Walgreen's will soon be able to buy a test that could help determine whether they're predisposed to certain ailments.

Direct-to-consumer genetic tests, or DTC, have been available since 2007.

"So now we're going from DTC to OTC: over the counter," says Beth Peshkin, a genetic counselor at Georgetown University.

But Peshkin doesn't think consumers will be lining up to toss the new tests in their shopping basket. She says most people who'd be interested are probably already pro-active about their health.

"But for one particular person who learns he or she may have an increased risk of heart disease, if that person then decides to eat more healthfully and exercise, that's a good thing," she says.

The problem, says Katie Decicco-Skinner, a cancer biologist at American University, is the tests might not be accurate, since they analyze a limited number of genes. And diseases such as cancer come from a large number of genes.

"So if you have this false sense of security because you come out negative in this test," Decicco-Skinner says, "you may all of a sudden decide that you no longer want to get mammograms, and it might make you worse off than had you not gotten the test to begin with."

Both Decicco-Skinner and Peshkin say consumers should use these tests with a grain of salt. Nothing substitutes for what Peshkin calls the "gold standard:" talking to a genetic counselor, or to your doctor.

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