Adoptees who lack access to family health history — which includes genetic, behavioral and environmental factors in families — could get information through targeted genetic testing, according to a Genetics in Medicine report published in April.
Adoptees account for more than 2.5% of the U.S. population, or 7.8 million people, according to U.S. Census data from 2000. Although some adoptees have access to family health history, many do not. One study found that for adoptees in general, medical information was available for less than half of birth fathers. “For international adoptees (currently one-quarter of adoptions), this problem is exacerbated not only by logistical difficulties, but also by well-established problems surrounding the limitations of medical records in many countries from which international adoptions occur,” researchers stated. “For nearly two-thirds of international adoptees, no written medical records exist, even for basic things such as vaccination status.”
Collecting family health history has been useful in risk assessment and preventive intervention for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cancer, among others. Adoptees and many other segments of the population lack adequate access to the genetic component of family health history that might inform their health management, researchers stated.
Emerging genomic technologies are able to offer the possibility of accessing genetic information that can help identify risks, such as a strong family history of breast or colon cancers. If properly targeted and interpreted, such analysis may have the potential to provide useful information regarding health risks when no information exists.
Family health history information could be critically important for adoptees who want to have children and wish to identify health risks. “For example, Tay-Sachs is perhaps the most well-known hereditary condition for which lack of genetic information (in this case, that of ancestry) might be relevant,” researchers stated in the study.
Researchers said it is critical to evaluate the potential of carefully considered genetic evaluation for adoptees. Identifying gene mutations through targeted gene testing can lead to clinical recommendations that can avert a health threat, the study stated.
Researchers concluded that studies of how populations perceive and integrate targeted genomic information into their lives and their healthcare will be key to understanding the value of genetic information.