Why Do You Want to Know About Genetic Risks of Disease When the Relative Risk Difference is Moderate?

If you smoke, you increase the risks of certain multi-factorial diseases five- to ten-fold. But various genetic variations carry much smaller risks for these diseases thanks to evolutionary pressures. So why would a person want to know their genetic risk? Smokers should quit even if their genetic risk is low. And non-smokers should continue to abstain, even if their genetic risk is low. Consistent with this observation, a recent BMJ article shows that knowledge of one’s genetic risk does not influence a person’s behaviour.[1] The point in continuing research into genetic associations is to unravel pathophysiological mechanisms on the assumption that this knowledge will translate into better treatments for established diseases. Precision medicine, it seems, does not entail precision preventive medicine.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director

Reference:

  1. Hollands GJ, French DP, Griffin SJ, et al. The impact of communicating genetic risks of disease on risk-reducing health behaviour: systematic review with meta-analysis. BMJ. 2016; 352: i1102.
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