Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, Brockington Building, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests have aroused controversy. Critics have argued many of the tests are not backed by scientific evidence, misguide their customers and should be regulated more stringently. Proponents suggest that finding out genetic susceptibilities for diseases could encourage healthier behaviours and makes the results of genetics research available to the public. This paper reviews the state of play in DTC genetic testing, focusing on tests identifying susceptibilities for lifestyle-related diseases. It will start with mapping the market for the tests. The paper will review (1) research on the content of the online marketing of DTC tests, (2) studies on the effects of DTC genetic tests on customers and (3) academic and policy proposals on how to regulate the tests. Current studies suggest that the marketing of DTC genetic tests often exaggerates their predictive powers, which could misguide consumers. However, research indicates that the tests do not seem to have major negative effects (worry and confusion) but neither do they engender positive effects (lifestyle change) on current users. Research on regulation of the tests has most commonly suggested regulating the marketing claims of the companies. In conclusion, the risks and benefits of DTC genetic tests are less significant than what has been predicted by critics and proponents, which will be argued reflects broader historical trends transforming health and medicine.
Corresponding author: Dr Paula Saukko, fax +44 1509 223944, email P.Saukko@lboro.ac.uk