Although direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements for pharmaceuticals
have been appearing in the mass media for 20 years, DTC advertisements for
genetic testing have only recently appeared. Advertisements for genetic testing
can provide both consumers and physicians with information about test availability
in an expanding market. However, 3 factors limit the value and appropriateness
of advertisements: complex information, a complicated social context surrounding
genetics, and a lack of consensus about the clinical utility of some tests.
Consideration of several advertisements suggests that they overstate the value
of genetic testing for consumers' clinical care. Furthermore, advertisements
may provide misinformation about genetics, exaggerate consumers' risks, endorse
a deterministic relationship between genes and disease, and reinforce associations
between diseases and ethnic groups. Advertising motivated by factors other
than evidence of the clinical value of genetic tests can manipulate consumers'
behavior by exploiting their fears and worries. At this time, DTC advertisements
are inappropriate, given the public's limited sophistication regarding genetics
and the lack of comprehensive premarket review of tests or oversight of advertisement
content. Existing Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration
regulations for other types of health-related advertising should be applied
to advertisements for genetic tests.