- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Gene testing is going mainstream: Starting this month, tens of thousands of white Americans will be offered testing to see if they carry a gene mutation that causes cystic fibrosis even if no one in their family has the disease.
Under new guidelines, obstetricians and gynecologists are supposed to offer the gene test to every Caucasian or the partner of a Caucasian who is pregnant or considering having a baby.
It marks the first time gene tests have been offered to the general population. Until now, they have been recommended just for small groups of people who know they are at high risk for a particular inherited disease, such as when an illness runs in the family.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has prepared pamphlets explaining cystic fibrosis, how gene testing works, and the relevance of parents-to-be discovering they have the gene mutations that cause the disease.
Babies must inherit a bad gene from both parents to have the disease, so if the mother has a mutation, the father must be tested as well.
About 30,000 American children and young adults are living with cystic fibrosis. The disease attacks their lungs, clogging them with a thick mucus, and can harm digestion and vitamin absorption by clogging the pancreas and intestines.
Treatment has improved in recent years, lengthening life span. Still, patients typically die in their 30s, most from lung damage or infection.
While it can affect anybody, cystic fibrosis is the most common inherited disease among Caucasians.
People can carry the defective gene without knowing it more than 10 million Americans do, including one in every 29 whites.
The test is not restricted to Caucasians anyone who wants it should be able to obtain it, the guidelines say. But the risk is lower for other groups: One in 46 Hispanics carry the bad gene, as do one in 62 blacks and one in 90 Asian Americans.
A test typically costs about $265. Doctors say many insurers do pay for it.

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