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Will I Do it for My DNA? Can Personalized Medicine Spark Healthier Behavior?

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The 10th Anniversary of the decoding of the human genome has prompted a whole new round of media coverage on progress toward 'personalized medicine i.e., approaches that use genetic information to prevent or treat disease in adults or their children. Not only will drugs be carefully tailored to our individual genetic profile, we will also be able to reduce risks and enhance our health by taking specific lifestyle-related actions that are determined by our unique constellation of DNA.

While I like the sound of these promises, I'm not impatient for their arrival.  We've got some work to do to get in shape for the demands personalized medicine will impose on us.

To date we don't have a great track record for making changes in our behavior for the benefit of our health in general witness the levels of physical activity and obesity that persist in this country despite persistent and inescapable messages that more of the former and less of the latter make a big difference to our health. Similarly, many of us are not particularly assiduous in performing actions that have been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms and arresting the progress of our chronic conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. It's even tough for some of us to maintain our regimens even when the consequences are dire: we cheat on our chemotherapy, lag in our compliance with anti-rejection drugs following transplants and refuse surgery that has a good chance of keeping us alive following a lung cancer diagnosis.

We have had years of health risk appraisals and cool online tools like Your Real Age all designed to personalize our risk profile and offer guidance on healthy behaviors. But these seem to have mainly appealed to those worried well who are already pushing back from the all'you-can-eat buffets and taking the stairs instead of an elevator. David Ropeik, a consultant in risk perception and risk communication, and author of the new book, How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts shares in a recent Boston Globe article, It's about how a risk feels, not what the statistics or the science say.

What makes anyone think that our current lack of action to minimize our unique risks and get the most from effective treatment will be different in response to personalized medicine based on our genes?  We don't seem to be able to think our way to good health behavior...will knowing the risks embedded in our genetic composition lead us to feel and then act -- differently?

More Blog Posts by Jessie Gruman

author bio

Jessie C. Gruman, PhD, was founder and president of the Center for Advancing Health from 1992 until her death in July 2014. Her experiences as a patient — having been diagnosed with five life-threatening illnesses — informed her perspective as an author, advocate and lead contributor to the Prepared Patient Blog. Her book, AfterShock, helps patients and caregivers navigate their way through the health care system following a serious or life-threatening diagnosis. The free app, AfterShock: Facing a Serious Diagnosis, offers a pocket guide based on the book. | More about Jessie Gruman


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Sarah Jorgenson says
July 21, 2010 at 2:46 PM

Iâ??m going to diverge a little. I approach the possibilities of personalized medicine and genetic screenings with trepidation, also. One of my greatest concerns is what will people do with this information besides worry? I read NY Times correspondent, Amy Harmonâ??s essay in The Best American Science Writing in 2008 about â??DNA tests revealing more than we are prepared to learn about who we are, where we came from and what might be in store for us in the future.â?? Without adequate resources like counseling and opportunities for people to act in some way positive with this knowledge, the information will be more debilitating than uplifting.

Link to NYTâ??s Amy Harmon: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/h/amy_harmon/index.html