Want to Know Your Child's Potential Risk for Diseases -- Years Before a Diagnosis?

If given the choice, would you want to know about your child's risk for hereditary diseases years before they surface?

A new advancement in technology, called whole genome sequencing, will now make that possible—and 58 percent of parents surveyed have already expressed interest in testing their children, according to a study conducted by the University of Michigan Health System.

Whole genome sequencing examines DNA using a small amount of blood or saliva in order to determine a risk of genetic disease, or to diagnose active diseases or their symptoms. The technology is currently being used for patients who have yet to be diagnosed but who are displaying symptoms.

The research, which appears in the journal Public Health Genomics, was conducted to gauge the population's interest in using whole genome sequencing to discover their potential for certain genetic diseases (such as cancers or Alzheimer's) in the future—and around 59 percent of the total population confirmed their interest while almost 62 percent showed interest for themselves, reports Science Daily. Also, nonparents who were planning to have their first child within the next five years were more interested in whole genome sequencing than current parents were.

As with the introduction of any new medical technology, there are always additional factors to consider. "While sequencing could reveal risk of a handful of rare and preventable diseases, authors note there is concern for how accurately the information would be interpreted and how useful it will actually be for patients," notes Science Daily.

When it comes to testing children, some experts believe it should be delayed until the child is old enough to understand and participate in the decision themselves. Because a disease your child may be at risk for—but may not even end up having—could take years to emerge and certain cures may still be unavailable, early knowledge may not be beneficial. Instead of dwelling on an uncertain reality, making more healthful choices may be beneficial.

"We want our patients to be active participants in their health; however, the value of genome sequencing in helping individuals understand their disease risks is still controversial, especially for children," said Daniel Dodson, the study's lead author.

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She's a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

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Image: DNA strand via Shutterstock

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