Risk, in the context of genetics, refers to the probability that an individual will be affected by a particular genetic disorder. Both genes and environment influence risk. An individual's risk may be higher because they inherit genes that cause or increase susceptibility to a disorder. Other individuals may be at higher risk because they live or work in an environment that promotes the development of the disorder.
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Risk is a pretty common term that most people are familiar with, and it really doesn't, in the context of genetics, mean anything different. And that is, the chance of some event occurring. And often that's talked about in terms of probabilities. Generally, numbers are assigned to that that tell an individual how likely something is to occur. So in genes, what we're often talking about is how much one's genetic makeup influences the chances that something will happen. And generally we're talking about health outcome, a health event, and that can be affected by genes. So your chance can be increased just by having a particular genetic variant or variation, or it can be genes and environment that together influence, either increase or decrease the likelihood, chance, or risk that something will happen.
Colleen McBride, Ph.D.
Chief and Senior Investigator, Social and Behavioral Research Branch; Head, Public Health Genomics Section
Dr. McBride's research focuses on developing innovative public health interventions to promote risk-reducing behaviors. Building on her behavioral epidemiology and genetics experience, she is investigating how genetic information can be used to motivate people to behave in healthier ways. Genetic testing is likely to become a leading medical tool for educating patients about their health risks and inspiring them to take preventive steps, though there are obstacles to overcome before that can occur. Having the testing technology does not necessarily translate into better health behaviors. Accurate family history information combined with genetic test results may help to personalize risk.