What did Dr. Oz say about genes and health, and what did his guest doctor say about viruses causing cancer that left me talking to the TV–and not in a happy voice?

February 4, 2011

Aieeeeeeeee. Dr. Oz had some visiting doctors on his show again today. As they were wrapping up some of the discussion, Dr. Oz said, “Genes load the gun… The environment pulls the trigger… I want you to remember that.” What?! We have discussed the importance of family health history in this forum before. So the role of genetics is one that is an important topic when talking about health.

But I wonder how many viewers really got the idea that it was family health history they should be thinking about with his expression–“Genes load the gun.” This is an old metaphor for the role of genes for health and has not been very effective. Add to that, the conversation that Dr. Oz was having about genetic mutations on the show. It all got mushed together…

“The environment pulls the trigger.. I want you to remember that.” Really? What does it mean? Again, the meaning of environment in this metaphor has many interpretations. Environment for most people is about where they live, the climate, the neighborhood, pollution… those things all matter when it comes to our health and interact with our family health history. But environment includes our personal behavior and our social environment–friends, family, and culture. What we eat, for example, is part of the ‘environment’ that our genes live in… But I am not confident that this meaning is clear when talking about genes and health with this metaphor… 

Then there was the conversation about viruses–that cause cancer. HPV was one of the two examples discussed. I think that this also was not a good way to discuss the issue. If I have cervical cancer, you cannot ‘catch’ it from me. Cervical cancer is not a virus that can be passed from one woman to another. Cervical cancer is often caused by the lesions that form from genital warts caused by HPV–the humanpapilloma virus. So there is a virus that causes a condition that may be the cause of cancer…and not just cervical cancer but also penile cancer and throat cancer and head and neck cancers… So we may pass a virus between us that leads to genital warts that sometimes do not heal and may cause some changes in our cells and become cancer…

So let’s focus on understanding that increases our health literacy and not shorthand expressions that don’t… And let’s look toward spring and the daffodils that will replace the frozen icy tundra in my woods today…

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One Response to “What did Dr. Oz say about genes and health, and what did his guest doctor say about viruses causing cancer that left me talking to the TV–and not in a happy voice?”

  1. Joe Thomas says:

    Education can lead to a better help. I know culture and “environment” is also a factor. But in the information era anyone can get tons of valuable information just a few clicks away… it is just a matter of education and consciousness. Anyone interested in HPV warts treatment please visit my site.

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