Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Can your family history save your life?

An article in the Globe and Mail, also the Winnipeg Free Press, Know your pedigree: Family medical history holds key to your health, trumpets the health benefits of your doctor knowing about your ancestral health.

However, as explained in the article, many people don't know or confuse their ancestor's diseases. The article quotes Rochelle Demsky, a genetic counsellor at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital,"If you think your grandmother had cervical cancer, but it really was ovarian (cancer), it makes a huge difference."

Another issue, not explained in the article, is whether or not you actually inherited the gene or genes responsible for the disease. You only inherit half of the DNA of each of your parents. That means you may not have inherited the DNA segment or segments that make you vulnerable. Or you may be a carrier but not have personal susceptibility.

There are cases of people who have had radical preventive surgery only to later find out through DNA testing that they had no enhanced susceptibility. There are also documented cases of people who worried about their susceptibility to a genetically-based disease only to find out through genetic testing that they did not inherit the susceptibility.

Such tests are becoming more available and accepted. A US study, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health found that 53 percent of parents were very or somewhat interested in home genetic testing for their children. We no longer have to accept a poorly remembered family history as a surrogate for a genetic test.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a valuable general interest article. Two World wars and many deaths from diseases such as Tuberculosis have left gaps in our family medical knowledge. Some of us have lost track of relatives. Most parents today have only two children. All this makes a stronger case for genetic testing, but is it comprehensive and reliable, yet? Anne S.