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Genetics 101
  Changing Your Risk

By Amanda Ewart Toland, PhD

Reviewed by Karen Hales, PhD
Last updated January 3, 2011

If you've been told that you have a genetic risk for a disease, it may seem like the disease is inevitable. For some diseases, such as Huntington's disease, it's true that if you carry a mutated gene that causes the disease there's little you can do to prevent it. However, for most heritable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, or hemochromatosis,
you may be able to decrease your risk by taking preventative action, even if you've inherited a high-risk gene. For these diseases, the earlier you find out that you are at risk, the sooner you can begin to make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk.


Genetic and Environmental Interactions

Some examples of environmental and genetic interactions are:
  • Cancer: Someone with a strong family history of melanoma or other skin cancer can reduce sun exposure and wear sun protective clothing to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
  • Heart disease: Someone with a strong family history of heart disease can follow a healthy diet and exercise program, perhaps in combination with certain medications, to reduce their risk of having a heart attack.
  • Hemochromatosis: Someone with a mutation in both copies of the hemochromatosis gene can greatly decrease their iron intake and have regular blood draws to reduce blood iron levels, and thus the risk of developing disease symptoms.

Learning How to Reduce Your Risk

For more information about how to lower your risk for diseases, see Genetic Health's disease-specific pages. Or, you can visit our screening and prevention directory.

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