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Personalized Medicine – When should you consider genetic testing?

Dr. Brown is a noted family physician and international and national speaker on health prevention, wellness, continuing medical education and women’s health. She is a member of numerous advisory bodies for both the provincial and federal government, helping make decisions regarding healthcare of Canadians. She was awarded, Family Physician of the Year, 2012 by the Ontario College of Family Physicians.


Since the Human Genome project made it possible to map the entire DNA of a human in the 1990’s, it has become a powerful information tool. Learning an individual’s personal genetic make up can lead to improved diagnosis of certain illnesses. We also can advise you, if you are at higher risk because of a disease or condition that runs in your family.  It can help physicians like myself make more informed decisions when prescribing medicines.  It is truly miraculous and a continually emerging and exciting field.

Breast cancer, heart disease, type II diabetes, prostate cancer are just a few of the diseases and conditions that can be tested.

However, before you begin the process, I would suggest you discuss your concerns with a certified genetic counselor.  And that counselor should be certified by the Canadian Association of Genetic Counselors. (

Sometimes, the first and only step you may need to take, is knowing your family history for a medical condition to be flagged with your counselor.  For instance, the vast majority of breast cancer cases occur by chance and are not as the result of genetic factors.  Counseling can be incredibly reassuring. Although rare, inherited changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which was the case for actress Angelina Jolie, are linked to a high lifetime risk of breast, ovarian and other specific cancers.   In that case, preventative measures were taken.  And that too is reassuring.

Once you and your counselor decide genetic testing is right for you, all that is needed is a saliva sample to begin the process.

In my next blog, I will discuss genetic testing and medication responses. We are learning how genetic testing can help in prescribing the best medication to treat a condition or disease. And we can tailor medication to specifically treat an individual…. for we all know, it is NOT one size fits all.

Dr. Vivien Brown –MDCM, CCFP, FCFP, NCMP
Vice-President, Medical Affairs, Medisys Health Group