Parents offered genetic susceptibility tests also want their own children to be offered them, believing the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

This was the conclusion of a study undertaken by Genewatch UK and published in the journal Pediatrics.

In this study, 219 parents were tested for 15 genetic variants linked to heart disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and colon, skin and lung cancer.

They were then asked a series of questions to compare benefits such as reassurance, knowledge and prevention, with risks such as invasion of privacy and psychological discomfort.

Genetic testing used to be confined to specialist clinics, but direct-to-consumer testing is now possible. People send a sample to a company in the post and are told if they have any genes which carry an increased risk of illness.

However Helen Wallace, from genetic science lobby group Genewatch UK, warned: "Online gene tests frequently give misleading results because most common conditions such as cancer, obesity or diabetes are not predicable from a person's genes, except in special circumstances.

"Children should not be tested for risk of adult-onset conditions, full stop. They should be allowed to decide for themselves, with medical advice, when they are grown up."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of BMA Professional Activities, said: "We would have concerns about genetic testing being widely available over the internet or off the shelf because parents could find out results without a health professional to help intepret them. They may also find out about genetic abnormalities for which there are no cures, or be caused needless worry.

"It is important that parents who find out that their children have a genetic disposition to a particular illness, have counselling in advance so they understand the consequences of the test for their child, other children and themselves."

Posted by Penny Hosie on 18.4.11 Comment on this article by sending it to: penny.hosie@pavpub.com  

 Gene story