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Poll: Most Americans Skip Genetic Testing

They're not concerned about knowing their chances of developing certain inherited diseases

Americans apparently are not that interested in learning whether they have a genetic disposition to certain diseases like breast cancer, Alzheimer's or diabetes, despite scientific advances in the last decade, according to a new AARP Bulletin genetic testing poll.

More than two-thirds of respondents (70 percent) say they wouldn't consider genetic testing to determine whether they're at increased risk for developing specific inherited diseases. Nearly one-third (32 percent) cite the cost, and 21 percent say they don't want to know the results, the poll found.

One in five say they're concerned that their results may fall into the hands of someone else. More than one in 10 say they're skeptical of the science involved in genetic testing, according to the survey of 1,000 people age 18 and older.

It was a decade ago in June that scientists unveiled a map of the human genome, which made testing to determine one's susceptibility to certain genetic diseases possible. To date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, genetic tests have been developed for more than 1,700 diseases—from rare disorders like Duchenne muscular dystrophy to inherited gene mutations responsible for some breast and ovarian cancers.

But there are limitations to the tests. For example, a positive result for a genetic mutation doesn't guarantee that a disease will develop. Likewise, a negative result doesn't mean a person won't get a certain disorder.

Kate Convery, 52, of Bethel Park, Pa., says she'd only consider genetic testing "if there was some kind of childhood genetic disease in my family, like cystic fibrosis. I probably wouldn't do it for diabetes or breast cancer."

"I live a healthy life, I exercise and I eat well so I guess I just don't see a value in it for me," she says. "I don't think of myself as that susceptible to disease. Maybe it's just denial, but nobody wants to think they'll get sick from anything."

What if a genetic test showed that a person could live to be 100? Here's how respondents say that information would influence their behavior:

  • 49 percent say they'd take better care of themselves.
  • 45 percent would save more money.
  • 22 percent would live more adventurously.
  • 19 percent would start another career.
  • 10 percent would begin another romance.

Interestingly, more than one-third (35 percent) say they wouldn't change a thing.

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin and has had genetic testing.

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