Understanding our genetic makeup has come a long way in recent years. You may be wondering how the information you learn from genetic screening can be useful.
We caught up with Islay Fitzgerald, a genetic counsellor at TELUS Health Care Centres, to learn more about what genetic screening is and what information it can provide.
Here are five ways that genetic screening may be helpful for you and your health:
1) Find out if you are at risk for something that you may not have a family history of
“Looking at someone’s family history has often been what’s used in screening for disease,” Fitzgerald says. “But now, with genetic screening, we don't have to rely solely on this.”
Genetic screening can allow you to find out whether you are at risk for potential hereditary cancers or cardiac disease, including detecting potential risk factors that you may not have a family history of.1
2) Get actionable next steps to take control of your health
Once you have an understanding of your genetic makeup, you may be wondering what (if anything) you can do about it.
“There’s a common misunderstanding that if it’s in your genes, there’s nothing you can do to change anything,” Fitzgerald notes. “But genetic screening can help you find medically actionable genetic conditions.”
It’s important to note that while a genetic screening and assessment by a genetic counsellor can help you understand potential risk factors, it does not replace a formal diagnosis from a physician.
What this means is that the results you receive may help inform what (if any) your next steps should be, and may help your physician refer you on for other potential tests. This might include additional screening that you may not have received otherwise, medications you can take preventatively, changes in your lifestyle that you may not have previously considered, or even surgery that may help.
“Having awareness and knowledge of potential risks can have an emotional side, but it can also be very empowering when you can receive a concrete action plan of what you can do next,” says Fitzgerald.
3) Avoid trial and error with medications
Pharmacogenomic testing can allow you to get an understanding of which medications may or may not work for you. While it won’t replace a diagnosis and prescription you would receive from your physician, it can potentially help you have informed discussions with your doctor and avoid the trial and error of trying new medications unnecessarily.
“This can be particularly helpful when it comes to medications for mental health,” says Fitzgerald. “With antidepressants, there may be many months of waiting to see if a medication is effective before realizing that it’s not. With pharmacogenomic testing, we can be more precise, and find out in advance how you may be expected to respond.”
Even if you aren’t on medication right now, pharmacogenomic test results may be valuable to have on hand in future conversations with your doctor should you find yourself needing medication in the future.
4) Understand your biological age
Your age according to your date of birth and your biological age may not be the same. Chronological aging happens at the same rate for everyone, whereas biological aging does not.
“Your biological age takes into consideration how your body’s cells are responding to your lifestyle choices like diet and exercise,” Fitzgerald says. “By reducing your biological age, you may be able to lower your risk of age-related diseases, and genetic screening can help you understand and track how your body responds to certain lifestyle choices over time.”
5) Get a different perspective on your health from a genetic counsellor
A genetic counselling session can help you navigate information about inherited conditions and get answers to questions you may have about genetics and its implications for you and your family.
“When I meet with a client, it usually involves a discussion about their values, and what is most important to them when it comes to genetic screening,” Fitzgerald explains. “I can explain the risks alongside the benefits and limitations of specific tests, and, if they choose to move forward, will review results and provide personalized recommendations for next steps.”
The results of your genetic screening are completely confidential.
Peace of mind and a clear path forward
A deeper insight into your health and a clear outline of next steps can be an empowering way to take charge of your health journey.
To learn more about genetic screening, and explore our suite of genetic tests click here.
Written in consultation with Islay Fitzgerald, Certified Genetic Counsellor.
1. The risk assessment by a genetic counsellor does not replace a formal diagnosis by a physician.