Do you know your family’s health history? How the Personal Genome Service might help

Dr. Ellie Cannon
Dr. Ellie Cannon

Dr. Ellie Cannon believes in the importance of a strong partnership between GPs and their patients to ensure better health outcomes, but the key to success is a patient who is both engaged and informed about his/her own health. New research released today looks at how proactive we are at looking after our own health and the benefits of knowing our family’s health history.


Less than half of those surveyed believe that they should be responsible for knowing about their health risks – including those that ‘run in their family’.

That’s despite the fact that nearly two thirds believe that if they were more informed about their health risks, they would adapt their lifestyle accordingly.

Dr Ellie Cannon strongly believes that empowered and proactive patients are part of the solution for the future of the NHS; so why aren’t more of us doing it?

Nearly two thirds of adults would adapt their lifestyle if they were more informed about their health risks, but only half of us believe it is our responsibility to know what those health risks are.

That’s according to new research which saw four out of five say they believe being more knowledgeable about their own health risks would benefit the NHS.

Much of our health is influenced or informed by genetics or family history, and doctors are much better equipped to make swift diagnoses, treatment decisions or health recommendations if these things are accurately understood and communicated.

Some interesting insight into age were also revealed in the survey, with over 80% of those aged 55 and above believing that their health is more important than happiness, education and wealth, whereas only 44% of 16-24 year olds prioritised health.

23andMe’s Personal Genome Service helps people across the UK unlock their genetic information and provides insights into health, genetic risk factors, traits and ancestry. By doing a test you could find out a wealth of information that can help you to become more informed and proactive about your own health and wellbeing, and that of your family.

Patient Talk interviewed Dr Cannon to find out more.

Patient Talk – So what is a Genome?

Dr. Ellie Cannon – The Genome is your entire genetic information, consisting of DNA which can tell you about your health and ancestry.

Patient Talk – And why are they important to our health?

Dr. Ellie Cannon – Well, we obviously talk a lot about lifestyle and risk factors in terms of our health but a large part of our health information is actually carried in our genetic information and it’s really important in both treatment of disease and prevention of disease to understand our own personal genetic make-up, our family history and our risk factors from our lifestyle.

Patient Talk – Ok how has genetics changed health?

Dr. Ellie Cannon – Well in the last sort of 10 years there’s been a huge change in terms of the way we treat conditions because of knowing so much more about genetics. That would apply to the way we treat cancer for example, where now genetics is very important. We have also seen in the last few years the advent of personal genetic services, where people can actually take ownership of some of their own genetic information. 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service helps people across the UK unlock their genetic information and provides insights into health, genetic risk factors, traits and ancestry. By doing a test you could find out a wealth of information that can help you to become more informed and proactive about your own health and wellbeing, and that of your family.

Patient Talk – Ok and would this vary from country to country?

Dr. Ellie Cannon – Well it would do in terms of access to health information and also access to personal genetic services. 23andMe kits are available to purchase in the US and Canada as well as in the following parts of Europe – UK, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and The Netherlands.

Patient Talk – And how would this work in practice?

Dr. Ellie Cannon –  Well in practice understanding your genetic information as well as your lifestyle information can prompt you to have a more informed discussion with either your family or with your doctor about your own risk factors. A direct-to-consumer genetic test doesn’t actually diagnose disease, it gives you an idea of something you may pass on to your children or it gives you an idea about risk factors or even how you may respond to medications.

Patient Talk – Ok and how are these medical conditions helped or rather what medical conditions are helped?

Dr. Ellie Cannon – Well there are many diseases that have a genetic element as well as a lifestyle element. Over the past few years, we have seen a lot of press coverage about breast cancer having a genetic component, a BRCA gene, associated to an increased risk for breast cancer which is something we can look at preventing. We know that your tendency to develop dementia and kidney  disease are within your genes as well as in your lifestyle and one of the other things that’s important to know is that 23andMe can reveal if you carry a recessive genetic variant for inherited conditions such as cystic fibrosis that can be passed onto your children.

Patient Talk – Ok and how do we go about finding out about our family health issues?

Dr. Ellie Cannon – Direct-to-consumer genetic tests are available in the UK. They are dedicated to helping people access, understand and benefit from the human genome. It enables individuals in the UK to gain deeper insights into their health and ancestry, along with traits that make them unique. That is a very specific way of looking at specific genetic details that you carry. Having a simple conversation with your family is also a great way to know more about your family health history and it’s very important to do that – it’s certainly something that UK adults need to do more.

Patient Talk – And finally where can we go for more information?

Dr. Ellie Cannon – You can go and find out more information at www.23andme.co.uk