Could a gene test save your life? 

Like Lover’s Lane and the Oval Office walls, your DNA could tell you some surprising things ... if it could talk. You’d get a ringside preview of your future health, and maybe even find out where you got those sea-green eyes or your talent for making terrible puns.

Since summer, the federal government’s been sending “we mean business” signals to the dozen or so companies selling genetic tests to consumers. That’s when a government study concluded that the tests were “misleading and of little or no practical use.” Now the Food and Drug Administration is considering regulating the tests as medical devices, and the American Medical Association also has weighed in, saying genetic tests should be done only when you get guidance before and after from a doctor and/or trained genetic counselor.

Don’t misunderstand where we stand on direct-to-consumer gene tests. Down the road, they could be an amazing resource that will help you take charge of your health. Even now, certain companies help you interpret results responsibly and locate an expert for more explanation. But others may leave you thinking that their limited check is the last word on your risk for everything from heart attacks to Alzheimer’s and cancer. And a few start trying to sell you supplements based on your genetic profile, a tip-off to a rip-off if we’ve ever seen one.

That’s why we were so intrigued by a recent study from the Cleveland Clinic that found that family health histories are way more accurate than consumer gene scans at determining your risk for three big cancers: breast, prostate and colorectal.

Your family history is still the “gold standard,” the study concluded, for figuring out how the genes you inherited from Mom and Dad, plus the lifestyle habits you may share with them, tilt your health odds. Your family’s health history is basically a free gene test that could save your life.

That’s why we think you should appoint yourself official family health historian right now. Get started with My Family Health Portrait, a free, easy-to-use government site at Or get your family members to set up and share free electronic medical records at Google Health.

While you’re waiting for your parents, siblings and even your aunts, uncles and cousins to pick up the phone and agree to exchange health info, here are four recently discovered ways that knowing your family history trumps gathering clues about a few genes:

- You’ll likely sidestep an early heart attack.
- You’ll know what to do if high blood sugar’s an inherited trait.
- You’ll add home testing if colon cancer is a family affair.
- You’ll take smart steps if breast cancer runs in your family.
The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, are authors of “YOU: On a Diet.” Want more? See “The Dr. Oz Show” on TV. To submit questions, go to

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