How genetics can help guide you and your family to a healthier future

The health and wellness of you and your family is always on your mind. You may even worry about what health risks lie ahead, especially if you’ve had family members diagnosed with a condition like heart disease or breast cancer. With genetic testing more readily available, you don’t have to rely solely on family history to gain insights on potential health risks. Additionally, some genetic tests, such as AncestryHealth®, offer genetic counseling to help users dig deeper into risk factors and provide guidance.

Marjan Champine, a board-certified and licensed genetic counselor at AncestryHealth®, looks forward to genetics becoming a staple of personal care. “My goal has always been to increase access,” Champine said, “not only to genetic testing but also to genetic counselors.” That’s because Champine, like many other professionals, believes in the power of genetics in preventative care. By knowing the health risks you may face in the future, you can take proactive measures to do something about it today.

Genetic tests help rule out risks

Genetic tests are capable of reading your DNA to look for variations known to be associated with inherited health issues. The more variations a test can look for, the more confident you can feel about not finding any.

Most tests use microarray technology, which looks for a small number of important variations. More advanced technology, including next-generation sequencing (NGS), is capable of looking at thousands of places in your DNA. Champine believes that a test powered by NGS is “a far more comprehensive genetic screening technology,” and that’s because it can detect more variations. For example, variations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are linked to a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Microarray technology that is currently available can detect about 20% of those variations compared to NGS, which has a nearly 80% detection rate.

Knowing your risk is valuable. It can put your mind at ease or help you get ahead of something that could impact you and your family.”

—Marjan Champine,
Genetic Counselor at AncestryHealth®

Genetic insights complement your family health history

In addition to scanning your DNA, genetic tests may also look at your family health history. Some tests like AncestryHealth® even have a Family Health History tool and provide step-by-step guidance to make sure information is collected seamlessly and accurately.

“Family health history is fascinating because in many ways it was considered the first genetic test and can provide these really strong clues about our health risks,” Champine said. “We know that families share genetics, but they also share other potential risk factors like lifestyle, diet and environment. If we know certain things run in our family, we can bring those to [the attention of] our healthcare providers, and they can help us understand what we need to be proactive about.”

Genetic health reports are personalized

Most genetic tests deliver a report that details your results. These results are tailored to you, and a good report will outline what the results mean, the potential impact on your family and what steps you may be able to take.

How your report is structured will depend on what test you choose, but results will reflect some version of “DNA differences found” or “no DNA differences found.” A test like AncestryHealth® will also take into account other possible risk factors as well as your family history. A family history of a condition can still mean a higher than normal risk level. Even if no variations are found, the process is still beneficial. “It’s a conversation starter to explore family health histories more deeply, which is incredibly valuable,” Champine said.

Where and how you review your results also matters. When the time does come, make sure you’re in a space where you feel comfortable with time set aside to go over everything carefully. Remember, reports are usually designed to help you start a dialogue with your healthcare provider. If variations are found, it’s even more important that you share your findings with your doctor as well as your family.

Genetic health reports can be discussion guides

Reports are designed to be easy to understand but also open the door to more in-depth discussions with your healthcare team, which may start with a genetic counselor. “Genetic counselors exist to provide personalized care to people as they navigate this often complex world of genetic health,” Champine said. Genetic counselors are also trained to provide emotional support and help prepare you for conversations with your healthcare provider.

While no longer actively counseling patients, Champine knows how beneficial genetic counseling can be. With over ten years of experience in the clinical setting, primarily working with cancer patients, she’s seen it firsthand. “What’s nice about having that connection with a genetic counselor is they are not just looking at one aspect of who you are—it’s not simply an algorithm. It’s having that person on the other side who can look at you personally and what motivates you to take better care of your health.”

If talking to your healthcare provider about genetic results seems intimidating, make sure to choose a genetic test that offers support resources. For instance, AncestryHealth® includes access to genetic counselors through PWNHealth as well as ready-to-share, physician-friendly reference guides for your healthcare provider. These executive summaries are made specifically for physicians to quickly digest need-to-know information.

Genetic insights can empower health decisions

Once you receive your results, you can partner with your healthcare provider to see what steps, if any, you should take. At the very least, it initiates important conversations you may not have been having. At the most, it could drive you and your doctor to either schedule earlier or more frequent screenings or take actions to better manage your health.

Wherever your genetic health journey may take you, make sure you choose a test that fits your needs and provides support like genetic counseling. “There’s a combination of 3 things that really get me excited about AncestryHealth® and also makes this offering unique. One, is the NGS technology that is used to analyze the DNA; two, is access to genetic counselors; and three, is the Family Health History tool,” Champine explained, “that combination of technology with support resources and tools make AncestryHealth®a strong offering to allow people to learn more about themselves for a healthier journey.”

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