Revealing the conditions a person is at risk of developing because of their genetic makeup does not prompt people to change their lifestyles, a new study has found.
Researchers in the UK found that alerting a person that their DNA suggest they are prone to certain diseases has “little or no impact” on unhealthy behaviour.
This included the likelihood a person would stop smoking, cut their alcohol intake, or exercise more to reduce the risk.
Such findings could impact how medics and public health officials use the growing field of personalised healthcare which is partly based on a person’s genetics.
A team of experts from the University of Cambridge, the University of Manchester and Imperial College London made their findings by assessing 18 research papers on the effectiveness of informing people about their genetic risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and some cancer.
The research published in the BMJ found that informing people of the risks personal to their DNA did not encourage them to change their lifestyles, such as protecting their skin from the sun or changing unhealthy diets. It also did not make them more likely to attend an screeing or use behavioural support programmes.
13 ways to help prevent cancer
13 ways to help prevent cancer
Stopping smoking. This notoriously difficult habit to break sees tar build-up in the lungs and DNA alteration and causes 15,558 cancer deaths a year
Avoiding the sun, and the melanoma that comes with overexposure to harmful UV rays, could help conscientious shade-lovers dodge being one of the 7,220 people who die from it
A diet that is low in red meat can help to prevent bowel cancer, according to the research - with 30 grams a day recommended for men, and 25 a day recommended for women
Foods high in fibre, meanwhile, can further make for healthier bowels. Processed foods in developed countries appear to be causing higher rates of colon cancer than diets in continents such as Africa, which have high bean and pulse intakes
Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day were given as the magic number for good diet in the research. Overall, diet causes only slightly fewer cancer deaths than sun exposure in Australia, at 7,000 a year
Obesity and being overweight, linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, causes 3,917 deaths by cancer a year on its own
Dying of a cancer caused by infection also comes in highly, linked to 3,421 cancer deaths a year. Infections such as human papilloma virus - which can cause cervical cancer in women - and hepatitis - can be prevented by vaccinations and having regular check-ups
Cutting back on drinks could reduce the risk of cancers caused by alcohol - such as liver cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer and mouth cancer - that are leading to 3,208 deaths a year
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Sitting around and not getting the heart pumping - less than one hour's exercise a day - is directly leading to about 1,800 people having lower immune functions and higher hormone levels, among other factors, that cause cancers
2011 Getty Images
Hormone replacement therapy, which is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause in women, caused 539 deaths from (mainly breast) cancer in Australia last year. It did, however, prevent 52 cases of colorectal cancers
2003 Getty Images
Insufficient breastfeeding, bizarrely, makes the top 10. Breastfeeding for 12 months could prevent 235 cancer cases a year, said the research
Oral contraceptives, like the Pill, caused about 105 breast cancers and 52 cervical cancers - but it also prevented about 1,440 ovarian and uterine (womb) cases of cancer last year
2006 Getty Images
Taking aspirin also prevented 232 cases in the Queensland research of colorectal and oesophagal cancers - but as it can also cause strokes, is not yet recommended as a formal treatment against the risk of cancer
The authors said that they had expected people to be encouraged to change their behaviour after learning of their health risks.
“The results of this updated systematic review ... suggest that communicating DNA-based disease risk estimates has little or no impact on risk-reducing health behaviour,” they concluded.
They added: “The available evidence does not provide support for the expectations raised by researchers and proponents of personalised medicine as well as direct-to-consumer testing companies that the receipt of results from DNA-based tests for gene variants that confer increased risk of common complex diseases motivates behaviour change.”
The research was published following the launch of the all-party parliamentary group on personalised medicine, with the aim of helping the NHS and patients to use new technologies which could revolutionise healthcare.
Dr Hilary Burton, director of the health policy think tank comment: “Opportunities for bioscience and technology to transform healthcare and deliver better health via personalised medicine are rapidly expanding, and we are delighted to provide the secretariat to this significant new parliamentary group as they examine these opportunities and consider how to ensure that patients and populations get the greatest health benefits from them.”
Additional reporting by PAReuse content