It wasn't just Angelina Jolie who went for a double mastectomy after doctors identified her genetic risk of contracting breast cancer, people in general are today using genetic risk information to make significant medical decisions, a study suggests.
With so much focus on risk factors for disease, we are living in an era of surveillance medicine, in which the emphasis on risk blurs the lines between health and illness, the researchers said.
"Social scientists have argued that we are now treating risk as if it were a disease, and these results provide strong evidence for that claim," said Rene Almeling, assistant professor of sociology at the Yale University in the US.
As the level of risk increases from 20% to 80%, people are more likely to want to take action of all kinds, including seeking information about the disease, managing risk by taking medication or undergoing surgery and organising finances, the findings established.
For the study, the researchers conducted a nationwide survey of American adults to determine if healthy people react to hypothetical genetic risk information by wanting to take action.
Participants were asked if they have a family member or close friend with the disease.
The researchers were startled to find that viewing a disease up close did not make much difference -- across the board, however, people responded to the hypothetical risk information by wanting to take action.
"Studies like this can aid health care providers in offering genetic information with sufficient context to insure that people make the best decisions for themselves," Almeling added.
The study appeared in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.