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Doctors Should Tell Patients About Some, But Not All, Unexpected Genetic Findings

Fri, 03/22/2013 - 2:50pm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

On Thursday, the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics recommended that doctors tell patients about certain genetic disease risks if they accidentally find them when exploring a patient’s genome for another reason. However, the group does not recommend that doctors tell patients about all incidental findings.

The issue concerns many medical geneticists and other clinicians who use genome data in their practice. When a patient gets genetic testing to hunt for an explanation for heart trouble, should a doctor tell that patient if he or she sees a predisposition for breast cancer or early onset Alzheimer’s disease?

It depends on the disease. The authors of the recommendation write that nearly 60 genetic variants, corresponding to more than 20 conditions, should be examined in all clinical sequencing tests. The authors say the recommended conditions are all likely to be verified by other diagnostic methods and can be addressed be some sort of medical intervention.

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