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Dear Iris: Genetic Testing — Worth It?

Dear Iris,

I’ve recently been doing a deep dive into my ancestry. My boyfriend decided to gift me a kit from 23andMe to help me on my journey. I just got the package and noticed it mentioned that they can run a health report that includes genetics. My oncologist mentioned previously that I might qualify through my insurance for genetic testing but held off from doing it. Could I use this instead?


Dear D,

Undergoing genetic testing can be a time-consuming process that can involve visits with a genetic counselor, laboratory appointments, and more. And while it may seem appealing to take an over-the-counter test that screens for genetic cancer risk at home, they can be inaccurate and potentially result in false negatives (or false positives).

Some at home test kits state that they screen for genetic mutations; generally, however, they are unable to screen for the specific variants that cause cancer. Genetic testing done to screen for cancer, when you are at risk or have a history of cancer, requires tailored testing specific to your needs.

If you’re unsure about whether you should have genetic testing done, the first step is to discuss this with your medical team. Often, they can guide you and provide a referral to a genetic counselor who can review your personal history and make recommendations. And if you take any at home tests, just make sure to discuss the results with your care team as they will likely need to do additional testing to follow up. 

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Lindsay Boudinot, RN, BSN, OCN

Senior Oncology Nurse

Iris Oncology

Lindsay Boudinot began her career as an emergency room nurse working in a level one trauma center in St. Louis, later transitioning into a breast cancer nurse navigator. In this role, she was able to work with patients from diagnosis, through treatment and into survivorship. Lindsay’s passion is empowering patients with knowledge and understanding of their cancer, treatment, resources, and side effect management techniques so that they can live their best lives possible despite difficult circumstances.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.