PITTSBURGH (CBS) — Genetic testing kits were a top seller this past holiday season.
They promise insight into your ancestry and more; and as science advances, so does their accuracy. But taking one of these tests could impact you for the rest of your life.
The answers they offer are potentially life changing. Who’s your father? Disease causing genes? Where did you come from?
So when Lanice Ortiz recently got a DNA test kit as a gift, she was intrigued. She already knew the basics.
“My grandma would talk about being Indian, but I never heard her say which tribe specifically,” said Ortiz.
So when she received her kit, she was naturally curious.
Testing begins with you spitting in a tube. Once you do that, you prepare your tube for the lab. As Ortiz got her sample ready for shipping, many questions ran through her mind.
“You kind of wonder where does your spit go? And is it legitimate?” she said.
Four weeks later, her results were in. The test was legit.
“I knew I was Native American and half Spanish, and it did confirm that,” Ortiz said.
It also showed Ortiz a list of people with DNA so similar, they could be her cousins.
“Most people don’t think that if they get a genetic test, it could ever come back to bite them, but it can,” said Jamie Court, of Consumer Watchdog.
Court says it’s easy to run tests that reveal more than ethnicity.
“The real danger is that you may find out you have a marker for a real serious illness,” Court said.
Court explained why he’s so concerned. A quick check of one website revealed when you purchase ancestry info, they offer an instant upgrade.
“Immediate access to your full health report,” says Court.
Court says that means “they’ve already run those reports on your DNA, because how would you get immediate access?”
And that’s most troubling when it comes to life insurance.
“If you apply for life insurance, they do have a right to get all your medical records. And if you’ve had a genetic test taken, they do have the right to request it,” Court said.
Current law protects against genetic discrimination, but Court warns that if the laws ever change and you have a disease-causing gene, “it could mean you don’t get insurance.”
Ortiz already has health insurance and doesn’t need life insurance. More important to her was learning about her roots.
“I think it was a good experience,” she says.
Court says if you are concerned about sensitive info landing in the wrong hands, before signing up, ask the company which tests they run.
“I’d make it very narrow,” Court said.
And should you change your mind down the line, Court says, “You should only agree to a DNA test if they agree to destroy the sample.”
Most companies let you decide whether to share your DNA test results with medical researchers. Right now, roughly 80 percent of people who take the tests do choose to share their data.