MAY 15, 2021 9:38 AM PDT

What does your polygenic risk score mean?

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends that people with a high polygenic risk score for colorectal cancer take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to prevent the disease. The guidelines come from a team of Vanderbilt researchers who analyzed data from participants in the UK Biobank. 

"Results from this study could be useful to design personalized prevention strategies for colorectal cancer prevention," said Wei Zheng, MD, PhD, MPH, Anne Potter Wilson Professor of Medicine and associate director for Population Sciences Research at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC).

The study is one of the first to quantify potential interactions of overall lifestyle with genetic susceptibility to colorectal cancer. The authors explain: “Although the observational nature of the study precludes proof of causality, our findings suggest that individuals with a high genetic susceptibility could benefit more substantially than those with a low genetic risk from lifestyle modification in reducing CRC risk.”

Their analysis measured scores of health based on a variety of factors including physical activity, sedentary time, processed and red meat intake, vegetable and fruit intake, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and waist-to-hip ratio. They then observed associations between health scores and polygenic risk scores that measure genetic susceptibility to colorectal cancer. 

They found that keeping a healthy lifestyle was associated with almost a 40% reduction in colorectal cancer risk among those with high polygenic risk scores. Furthermore, they showed that people with high genetic risk and an unhealthy lifestyle were over three times more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer than those with low genetic risk and a healthy lifestyle. These findings point toward the urgent need to promote healthy lifestyles within at-risk populations.

Sources: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Science Daily

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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