Genes Change the Risk of Disease, but Not Necessarily Fate

It is easy to fall into the trap of the disease “gene”. But the truth is, many diseases are influenced by both genetics and other factors in your life. This infographic from Mosaic explains what that means.

Take breast cancer, for example. We all have the gene for the BRCA1 protein, and in most of us, this protein acts as a powerful tumor suppressor: it’s the good guy protecting us from cancer. But if you get a certain “variant” of BRCA1 or its BRCA2 cousin, that tumor suppressor won’t be able to do its job either, and you will be at a higher risk of breast cancer.

The Mosaic infographic gives some figures on this risk. Only 1 in 500 people have BRCA1 or BRCA2 versions that put them at higher risk. What it means: Among people with a defective version, the average risk of cancer is 1 in 2, so this is a flip of a coin, not a death sentence. Among people with completely normal BRCA1 and BRCA2 proteins, the risk of breast cancer has not disappeared; it’s still 1 in 8. Genes do affect risk, but they don’t completely determine your destiny.

Sure, some (like Huntington’s) are close to safeguards, but most reflect a trade-off between genes and everything else in your life. For example, obesity increases the risk of heart disease by 69%, while the MTHFR gene variant can only increase it by 16%.

Here’s the complete infographic. Check out the link below for an explanation of Mosaic and sources for their number.

Genetics: Risk or Fate? | Mosaic

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