The amount of time it takes for you to receive your genetic test results depends on the type of test and your health care facility. Talk to your doctor, medical geneticist or genetic counselor before the test about when you can expect the results and have a discussion about them.
If the genetic test result is positive, that means the genetic change that was being tested for was detected. The steps you take after you receive a positive result will depend on the reason you had genetic testing.
If the purpose is to:
- Diagnose a specific disease or condition, a positive result will help you and your doctor determine the right treatment and management plan.
- Find out if you are carrying a gene that could cause disease in your child, and the test is positive, your doctor, medical geneticist or a genetic counselor can help you determine your child's risk of actually developing the disease. The test results can also provide information to consider as you and your partner make family planning decisions.
- Determine if you might develop a certain disease, a positive test doesn't necessarily mean you'll get that disorder. For example, having a breast cancer gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2) means you're at high risk of developing breast cancer at some point in your life, but it doesn't indicate with certainty that you'll get breast cancer. However, with some conditions, such as Huntington's disease, having the altered gene does indicate that the disease will eventually develop.
Talk to your doctor about what a positive result means for you. In some cases, you can make lifestyle changes that may reduce your risk of developing a disease, even if you have a gene that makes you more susceptible to a disorder. Results may also help you make choices related to treatment, family planning, careers and insurance coverage.
In addition, you may choose to participate in research or registries related to your genetic disorder or condition. These options may help you stay updated with new developments in prevention or treatment.
A negative result means a mutated gene was not detected by the test, which can be reassuring, but it's not a 100 percent guarantee that you don't have the disorder. The accuracy of genetic tests to detect mutated genes varies, depending on the condition being tested for and whether or not the gene mutation was previously identified in a family member.
Even if you don't have the mutated gene, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll never get the disease. For example, the majority of people who develop breast cancer don't have a breast cancer gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2). Also, genetic testing may not be able to detect all genetic defects.
In some cases, a genetic test may not provide helpful information about the gene in question. Everyone has variations in the way genes appear, and often these variations don't affect your health. But sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between a disease-causing gene and a harmless gene variation. These changes are called variants of uncertain significance. In these situations, follow-up testing or periodic reviews of the gene over time may be necessary.
No matter what the results of your genetic testing, talk with your doctor, medical geneticist or genetic counselor about questions or concerns you may have. This will help you understand what the results mean for you and your family.