Genetic testing has taken off in recent years. Companies like 23andMe and Medcan are finally allowing people to get their DNA tested so that they can better understand their genetic lineage and determine if they're prone to certain diseases. Now all this sounds good in theory — but what if your genetic tests yielded some rather horrible results? This is exactly what happened to Julie Green, a Canadian who was completey unprepared for what the tests indicated about her future health.
Writing a daily personal piece for the Globe and Mail, Green asked, "If someone offered you a glimpse into your future, would you look? What if that glimpse could reveal Alzheimer's disease or breast cancer? Would you still look?"
Undaunted by the implications, Green decided to go through with the tests anyway — and the tests results were far worse than she could have ever predicted. She writes:
With calm professionalism, Jill flags conditions in which my lifetime risk [of ovarian cancer] is greater than 20 per cent above that of the general population. I'm not much of a gambler, but the odds speak for themselves.
When she tells me I'm twice as likely as the average North American to contract Alzheimer's disease, I hardly bat an eyelid.
But she saves the biggest bombshell for last. My maternal grandmother has macular degeneration, a condition that causes loss of vision due to retina damage. A condition I had always attributed to my grandmother's 50-year career as a smoker.
While the average person carries a 3.1 per cent risk of macular degeneration, my risk is a whopping 61 per cent, Jill reveals. Immediately, the bottom of my stomach drops out.
So much for stoicism. I had no inkling that my grandmother's condition was so heavily rooted in heredity. I've been thinking the testing would reveal some great mystery about my father, when in fact it revealed more about my mother's side of the family.
Now it's important to remember that genetic tests are not destiny. As Green correctly notes in her piece, 2% of women who undergo whole genome sequencing could receive a positive test result for ovarian cancer — but that doesn't mean the other 98% are off scot-free. And vice-versa. Not only are genetic tests still very much in their nascent stage of development, they fail to take into account environmental, lifestyle, and epigenetic factors.
That said, results like these should not be ignored; that's the whole point of genetic testing in the first place. Now that she knows about her apparent susceptibility for conditions like Alzheimer's and macular degeneration, Green can work to proactively stave off the onset of these diseases to the best of her abilities. It's been shown, for example, that resistance training and brain games may work to slow down the onset of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Like so many things in life, knowledge is power — even if that knowledge is bad news.
Read Julie Green's entire account of her experience.
Image via Shutterstock.com/Nikita G. Sidorov.