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Limitations of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising for Clinical Genetic Testing

Sarah E. Gollust, BA; Sara Chandros Hull, PhD; Benjamin S. Wilfond, MD
JAMA. 2002;288(14):1762-1767. doi:10.1001/jama.288.14.1762.
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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.

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