NAT1 gene, located on Chromosome 8, deals with metabolizing certain drugs, carcinogens and…. smoke from cigarettes. I have this gene, and so, I am likely to be a slow acetylator, which means I have a higher likelihood to get cancer from smoking. Good thing I don’t smoke.
But my father did.
He died of lung cancer at age 58. I’m 44 now, and the closer I get to 50, the younger that seems.
He isn’t the only one, as I have mentioned before, I also had two uncles that died of lung cancer, due to smoking. The interesting thing is that these men were not related by blood. My Uncle G was my mother’s brother and my Uncle D was my mother’s sister’s (my aunt’s) husband. They had a lot in common though.
They were all roughly the same age. All of them grew up smoking, in an era (the 50s and 60s) when people smoked – and started smoking early. As I recall, my father started smoking at age 14. And of course, they were all unfiltered cigarettes. My dad and Uncle G worked in the car business together doing auto body repair. They spent all day drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and inhaling paint fumes and Bondo dust. My dad would come home coughing colors. All of this could have contributed to his cancer, and it undoubtedly did.
But here is why I think this gene is important. Though they were not related, all of these men had families that originated in the same area in the Netherlands. I’ve spent a fair amount of time going back in my ancestral roots, on all sides of the family, and we all basically came from the same place. So, is it unlikely that these men, though unrelated, all shared the same gene? Not at all.
And I wonder, what would have happened if they knew? My uncles both eventually stopped smoking, but my dad smoked right up until he died, knowing that cancer was killing him. Would they have quit smoking sooner? They probably would have still smoked as young men – it was a different era and they started back when they were teens and still believed they were immortal.
But as they got older, married, had children… would it have changed anything? Would they have been more likely to “take it outside”? Nowadays we can barely remember people smoking indoors, but it wasn’t that long ago that it was the norm. This was far before smoking was banned anywhere – there were still smoking sections in restaurants and ashtrays in the bathrooms. My father always smoked inside, so from birth until I moved out of the house, I was exposed to secondhand smoke. Would he have acted differently if he had known that he would die a miserable, painful death at 58?
These are the things I wonder. Genes are literally what we are made of. If we knew what they said, would we change our actions?
I hope so.