Assessment of Basic Knowledge and Interest in Teens and Adults Regarding the Impact of the Environment on Cancer Risk Through Epigenetics.
Banita Bailey1, Linda Levin2, Marian L Miller3, Vinothini Janakiram3, Yuet-Kin Leung3,4,5, Tracie Metzger1, and Shuk-Mei Ho3,4,5,6
1Pink Ribbon Girls, Cincinnati OH 45258. 2Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, 3Division of Environmental Genetics and Molecular Toxicology, Department of Environmental Health, 4Center for Environmental Genetics, 5Cancer Center, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati OH 45267. 6Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH 45220.
BACKGROUND: Developmental processes occurring in utero and at various times during maturation, have been termed "windows of susceptibility", and demarcate particularly sensitive phases in which cancer risk is heightened by untoward environmental events. Epigenetics is involved in these “windows” impacting gene expression, even transgerationally, while circumventing actual alterations in DNA sequence. The importance of this information should be recognized by all, and the knowledge that epigenetic modulation of gene expression impacts one’s health can confer responsibility, as it also empowers the individual to protect their own health and that of their offspring. These “windows” in utero during pregnancy, pre-pubertally and in early adulthood are being studied in Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers, from which stemmed the aim of the present outreach effort: to survey the friends, survivors, supporters and families of PinkRibbonGirls.org with respect to their interest in, and knowledge of, the potential for epigenetics to impact health, to assist us with our outreach activities.
METHODS: Two questionnaires, targeting to both adults and teenagers, were designed to gauge general knowledge of the impact of epigenetics on one’s health and cancer risk (730 respondents).
RESULTS: The study population, surveyed by opportunity, was mostly female (69.3%), primarily Caucasian and African-American, and largely young (14 – 24; 54%). The data suggest that the perception of impact of the environment on gene expression is greatest between the ages of 20 and 64, but also show that there are many gaps in the knowledge base, and that though the impact of environment on breast cancer is recognized, the details of epigenetics, as such, and its impact of various aspects of health is lacking.
The media preferences for receipt of educational materials were primarily for electronic format, with the youngest respondents favoring video presentations as opposed to static formats. The data also show, more importantly, that the interest of the respondents, in understanding epigenetics in greater depth, even as it relates to health of self, and kin, is quite modest.
CONCLUSIONS: Outreach educational materials should target ages 14-24 with scientific data with a dynamic, animated and youthful visual appeal, and for older individuals as a webpage with the express purpose of providing them with health information. Relevant educational and entertainment quality should help individuals make better life-choices that translate into greater health for self, and offspring.