Risk estimates from one person's DNA also differed greatly depending on which genetic company was providing the results. One of the faux consumers, for example, was told by different companies that he had a below average, average and above average risk for prostate cancer and hypertension.
In March an FDA advisory panel said consumers could be easily misled by genetic testing and urged federal regulators to make many genetic tests available to consumers only with the blessing of doctors. The FDA isn't required to follow recommendations of advisory panels, but it often does.
The Federal Trade Commission, which protects consumers against fraudulent claims, agrees, advising consumers not to be pulled in by advertising that suggests these tests can measure the risk of developing a disease, or ads that claim to offer special supplements or foods to ward off developing disease. One direct-to-consumer genetic company representative told a government undercover investigator, for example, that the company's supplements had "cured the arthritis in his knees and prevented him from getting high blood pressure and high cholesterol."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically advises consumers not to seek out genetic tests without the support of a doctor, because it says the tests for many diseases are based on "limited scientific information, and may not yet provide valid or useful results."
But those messages haven't necessarily made their way into homes.