You may have read about pharmacies and other companies who offer pharmacogenetic testing to determine which medications will work best for you. So what does this mean and does it really work? The first step is to understand what happens when we take medications.
What happens when we take medications?
While some medicines are in their active form, others require our body to metabolize or break them down into an active ingredient. Different people can metabolize drugs at different rates. If we look at the picture below we can see that the same medication can have different effects in different people.
- Person #1 isn’t able to convert the drug to get the desired effect. If high doses are used they may start to get side effects
- Person #2 is what happens the majority of the time and most people will get the desired effect from the medication.
- Person #3 is converting too much of the drug to the active form and may get too much of the drug and side effects.
What is pharmacogenomics (PGx) testing?
Because we understand that genetic differences can account for these changes in medication effects and clearance, over 140 medication labels now come with dosing information for people who have differences in their genes. By testing some of your genes, we can predict how your body will respond to different medications. An example can be a breast cancer drug which needs to be converted by an enzyme in the body to its active form. As you can see in the diagram below if you are missing the gene that makes this enzyme the medication will not work. Pharmacogenetic testing helps find the safest and most effective drug for individuals.
How does the testing work?
The test uses a swab that is rubbed in your mouth on the inside of your cheeks. This will take a sample of cells which is sent to a lab for testing. The test checks your ability to break down, clear and activate different medications. Not all the genes tested have good evidence to show that we should change treatment decisions based on the results. This means that it is important to have someone who can competently review the results and explain them to you.
Does this testing check for disease conditions?
No, typically this type of testing is only looking for changes in genes related to how drugs are metabolized by the body.
How much do the tests cost?
The test available from our pharmacy costs $499 and we do have a $25 discount code “APOTHECARERX” that you can use. While private insurances are starting to cover the cost of testing, many patients still pay out of pocket.
What’s the bottom line?
Having pharmacogenetic information can definitely help guide decisions, but should be based on other factors such as other medications, age, and previous medical history. If you have it done make sure you have someone who is capable of interpreting the results for you and your other care providers. The other thing to consider is the cost. If cost is not a barrier it may provide information that can be useful to your prescribers now and in the future as we learn more about how drugs are metabolized by the body. Give us a call or drop by if you would like to learn more about pharmacogenetic testing.