Inheriting Your Health

Should you use genetic testing to forecast disease?
Forecasting Disease

If you could find out how you are going to die, would you want to know?

One East Coast mom does. Mary (who doesn't want her full name used for fear of losing insurance) has been obsessed with dying since her mother died of ovarian cancer 17 years ago.

"I've absolutely never been carefree," she says. "Until I had my ovaries out at thirty-four, I felt like I had a time bomb waiting to go off inside me. I had to get it out before it exploded."

Thanks to newly available gene testing, Mary finally will learn whether she's inherited the fatal BRCA1 gene mutation, which may have caused her mother, aunt, and grandmother to develop cancer and die. "I want to know," she says. "Not knowing doesn't make it go away."

Life's greatest unknown-death-can now be forecast for many because of the advent of genetic testing.

More than 5,000 diseases, from Alzheimer's and diabetes to cancer and heart disease, have inherited components. Already, genetic tests can predict risk for more than 700 of these diseases, such as Lou Gehrig's disease, cystic fibrosis, Huntington's disease, muscular dystrophy, and cancers of the colon, thyroid, breast, ovaries, and skin.

Knowing which diseases run in your family-whether they're gleaned from genetic tests or from charting your medical past-can help you live longer.

Continued on page 2:  The Power of Knowledge