Q: I heard that the at-home DNA testing kits I see advertised everywhere can test for a person’s susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease. Is that true and how accurate are those results?
Christine Spencer, Maui County regional coordinator, Alzheimer’s Association: Alzheimer’s is one of the most feared diseases in the U.S. and as such, there is an incredible amount of curiosity and concern about our level of risk. With the recent rise in popularity of at-home genetic testing, many people are looking to these kits to ease their worries. It is true that some of these at-home health assessments can tell you if you carry APOE-e4, a gene mutation that is associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. But the fact is that having one or two copies of APOE-e4 provides only very general information about increased Alzheimer’s risk.
Having the risk gene present in your test findings doesn’t definitively determine whether or not you’ll develop Alzheimer’s. In fact, there is no single test that can predict with certainty who will develop it. The genetics of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (such as frontotemporal dementia, Lewy Body dementia, etc.) varies from one disorder to another.
Persons genuinely concerned about their dementia risk, or the risk of a loved one, based on family history, should consider making lifestyle changes regardless of genetic status. Growing evidence indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits like exercising regularly, eating healthy for your brain, and staying engaged socially. The best way to reduce anxiety about any health concern is to educate yourself with the facts. Support groups are a reliable resource for education as well as emotional support.
The Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter offers a free monthly support group for caregivers and people living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. The group meets every third Tuesday of the month in the Nutrition Education Room (in the cafeteria) at Maui Memorial Medical Center from 5:30 to 7 p.m. For questions or to RSVP, contact Christine Spencer at 808-591-2771, ext. 8235.
Q: What can I do to improve my chances of not developing cancer?
Dr. Derrick Beech, surgical oncologist: Although there are a small number of cancers that develop due to heredity and genes passed along from previous generations (breast cancer, ovarian cancers and colon cancers, for example), the majority of cancers develop spontaneously. It is believed that lifestyle changes, such as eliminating tobacco/smoking, becoming physically active, avoiding alcohol and eating a balanced diet, will significantly lower the risk of developing cancer.
The most common cancers are breast, prostate, colon, lung, and skin cancers. The primary goal is to prevent the cancers from developing by living a healthy lifestyle. However, it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of developing cancer. Thus, the goal is to be proactive in screening exams such as mammogram or colonoscopy in order to detect any signs of cancer at an early stage.
In summary, the best approach is to minimize or prevent cancer from developing by practicing a healthy lifestyle, minimizing toxins and focusing on being physically active and stress-free. Early detection is important, so it is critical that you remain in compliance with breast, colon and prostate cancer screening guidelines.
* Physicians, providers and administrative staff who practice at Maui Health System hospitals and clinics answer questions from the public in “Healthwise Maui,” which appears on Thursdays. Maui Health System operates Maui Memorial Medical Center, Maui Memorial Medical Center Outpatient Clinic, Kula Hospital & Clinic and Lana’i Community Hospital and accepts all patients. To submit a question, go to the website at mauihealthsystem.org/contact.