The benefits of genetic testing are being held back by a lack of public information.

A study of Australian health consumers has found most have relatively low levels of understanding and awareness of genetic testing, despite its significant potential to improve health outcomes.

“Genetic testing has moved from being used for rare genetic conditions only to being an integral part of a modern health system,” says researcher Dr Aideen McInerney-Leo.

It is predicted that 60 million people globally will have had whole genome sequencing by 2025.

“It’s already becoming a mainstream part of cancer treatment, with genetic testing of tumours allowing doctors to quickly determine the most effective course of treatments and improve patient outcomes,” she said.

“We expect its use to continue to broaden to help guide more personalized medicines that both better treat conditions and reduce the incidences of adverse effects.”

Despite relatively low levels of knowledge about genetic testing, most participants expected it to play a bigger role in future healthcare.

Those surveyed also agreed that genetic testing should be promoted, and made more available, particularly for pregnant women, and receive more funding.

Survey participants did express concerns about the accuracy and limitations of current testing and its ethical implications, especially around the potential for genetic discrimination. 

“Addressing concerns around genetic discrimination, particularly with regards to insurance policies is really important in pre-test education and counselling,” said Dr McInerney-Leo.

“Since July 2019, a moratorium has prohibited life insurance companies from asking about genetic test results on policies of less than $500,000. Now, we need to monitor its efficacy to ensure that health consumers are protected.”

The study is accessible here.