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Public willingness to participate in population DNA screening in Australia


Background Population-based DNA screening for medically actionable conditions has the potential to improve public health by enabling early detection, treatment and/or prevention; however, public attitudes and willingness to participate in DNA screening have not been well investigated.

Methods We presented a scenario to members of the Australian public, randomly selected from the electoral roll via the Australian Survey of Societal Attitudes, describing an adult population DNA screening programme currently under development, to detect risk of medically actionable cancers and heart disease. We asked questions regarding willingness to participate and pay, preferred delivery methods and concerns.

Results We received 1060 completed questionnaires (response rate 23%, mean age 58 years). The vast majority (>92%) expressed willingness to undertake DNA screening. When asked about the optimal age of screening, most (56%) favoured early adulthood (aged 18–40 years) rather than at birth or childhood. Many respondents would prefer samples and data be kept for re-screening (36%) or research use (43%); some preferred samples to be destroyed (21%). Issues that decrease likelihood of participation included privacy (75%) and insurance (86%) implications.

Conclusion Our study demonstrates public willingness to participate in population DNA screening in Australia, and identifies barriers to participation, to be addressed in the design of screening programmes. Results are informing the development of a pilot national DNA screening programme.

  • genetics, population
  • genetics, medical
  • genetics
  • public health

Data availability statement

Data are available on reasonable request. Data collected through the AuSSA is made publicly available via the Australian Data Archive (subject to some embargoes on sponsored questions). A summary of data collected through the current study is included as a supplementary file to this manuscript.

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