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Study: Pediatricians Should Anticipate Interest in Genetic Tests for Adult Conditions

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Pediatricians should anticipate interest from parents in having their children tested for genetic susceptibility to adult-onset diseases and conditions and should be prepared to facilitate informed decision-making about such tests, according to a study published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The study is based on a survey that found that parents perceived the benefits of pediatric testing as outweighing the risks, and they were "moderately interested" in pediatric testing.

"The findings of our study should remind clinicians and policy-makers to consider children when regulating genetic tests," Kenneth Tercyak, lead author on the study and an associate professor at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a statement today.

"These tests usually don't offer a clean bill of health and can be hard to interpret even in the best scenario," he said. "A child's unexpected test results could trigger negative reactions among parents and children, and lead to conversations at the pediatrician's office that providers aren't prepared to have."

The study relied on 219 eligible participants from the National Human Genome Research Institute's Multiplex Initiative, a project aimed at studying public attitudes about genetic testing, susceptibility, and personalized medicine, who had previously been offered genetic tests.

The adult-onset conditions the tests targeted included colon, skin, and lung cancer; heart disease; high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

The survey asked parents about their beliefs about the risks and benefits of predictive genetic testing for children, and about their interest in having their children tested if these tests were made available.

Tercyak said that the group of parents who showed the most interest in taking predictive genetic tests themselves also were more interested in having their children tested, and that they did not distinguish much between the pros and cons of having themselves or their children tested.

He said that the participants were in favor of obtaining the information, believing that it could be used to improve health maintenance and disease prevention later in life.

"It is important to note that the actual risks, benefits, and utility of genetic testing for common preventable health conditions have not been established for adults or for children," the authors wrote.

The authors also suspect that the increasing availability of direct-to-consumer genetic testing could create demand from parents for these tests within the primary care environment.

"Someday, [genetic testing] could help jump start conversations about lifestyle risks, and ways pediatricians can help parents and children reduce risk through healthier eating and exercise habits and avoiding tobacco and other substances," Tercyak said. "We still need to learn more about how to support families regarding choices on genetic tests and in adopting lifestyle changes, and what role high quality genetic information could play in those conversations."

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