LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
More people are getting their genes tested both in the doctor's office and through direct-to-consumer companies like 23andMe and ancestry.com. NPR's latest poll with Truven Analytics shows that curiosity about genealogy is a top reason people are buying these genetic testing kits. Health editor Scott Hensley of NPR's Shots blog joins us now to talk about the latest findings. Hey.
SCOTT HENSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me what this poll is all about.
HENSLEY: We were curious to ask people across the country what they thought about genetic testing, if they'd considered it and, if so, what their experience had been with it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. And what did you find?
HENSLEY: We found that about a little less than a third, 29 percent or so, of people had said, yes, they or a family member had considered genetic testing, either of the type that's direct-to-consumer or a test that's done in a doctor's office.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As I mentioned, the majority of people who are buying these test kits are doing it because they want to know where they come from, who their ancestors were, if they're really Irish or Greek or whatever else.
HENSLEY: Right. That's the case for the direct-to-consumer tests or the type from 23andMe and ancestry.com. For the tests in the doctor's office, the main reason was to help with some sort of diagnosis.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, so medical reasons, right?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: To see if you might have a predisposition for cancer or other genetic diseases.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. What about privacy concerns?
HENSLEY: Well, about half of people said that they did have privacy concerns. We further asked them, well, would you be willing to share the data with people? That was sort of a way we peeled back that question a little bit more. And people were comfortable sharing information with doctors, relatives, even health researchers. But they drew the line at employers. And that's an area where there has been a lot of concern and legislation and regulation. So I think people are mindful - with good reason - of what could be done with this data in a way that might not help me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what can these tests really tell us about our health and our genes? I mean, were people aware of that?
HENSLEY: In the tests that you get in the doctor's office, they can be very specific - screening for a newborn's inherited diseases, perhaps, or, in the case of cancer, figuring out whether a drug might work for you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: May I ask you why you decided to do this survey? I mean, what was it about this that seemed important?
HENSLEY: This is now becoming a mass-market product. You know, you're seeing it in ads alongside soap and, you know, any other service or product that you might want. And in the first quarter of this year alone, 23andMe spent $28 million on advertising for their tests, which is twice as much as they spent in all of 2016. And even now there are ads offering a discount on the 23andMe test for Father's Day. Give it as a gift. We were just really trying to figure out a little bit more about the experience that people had, what their concerns were, also what they thought it might do for them.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because ultimately, it's not soap - it's your genes and some very privileged information about the essence of who you are.
HENSLEY: That is exactly right.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Scott Hensley is a health editor at NPR who runs the Shots blog. Thank you so much.
HENSLEY: You bet.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNCLE TUPELO'S "SANDUSKY")
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