Knowing your family health history can help you understand your risk factors for various symptoms and conditions, including cancer. Many illnesses have a genetic component, so knowing if someone in your family has received a diagnosis is important. Shared lifestyle factors can also increase the risk for certain diseases.

Being informed about your family’s medical history can help you understand potential symptoms, stay on top of routine and recommended screenings, and provide a valuable data point for your doctor.

Here’s how to learn more about your family health history and how this knowledge can help you.

Talking to Your Family About Your Health History

How you approach discussing your family health history depends on your relationship with your family. The degree to which your family is close and open about sharing private information is something to consider.

Before you have a discussion, create a list of family members whose medical histories are most relevant to yours. Biological siblings, parents, and biological children are closest to you in terms of both genetic and lifestyle factors, so they should be at the top of your list. The histories of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins can also be useful to know.

Once you know who you need to talk to, outline the questions you want to ask. These should cover any specific diagnoses that family members have had and when and how they were diagnosed. If certain members of your family have passed away, speak with close relatives to determine their cause of death. This information can be beneficial to both you and your doctor, who can use it to outline specific screenings and provide recommendations about minimizing your risk.

Be sure to write down your family members’ responses. You can do so on paper or using this free tool. Additionally, always mention that you are asking from an informational perspective and that there is nothing to be concerned about health-wise.

Your Family Health History and Cancer

Many types of cancer carry a genetic component. Understanding the types of cancer present in your family and at what age your family members were diagnosed can help you know what to look for. It also gives you information to take to your doctor that they can then use to develop a screening regimen or prevention plan.

If your close family members don’t know of any cancer risks, or you are adopted, consider genetic testing. Genetic testing can help identify your individual cancer risk factors – and even what types of treatment would be most beneficial to you. If genetic testing sounds right for you, talk to your doctor or specialist about your options.

At SWWO, we understand the power and relief that come with being informed about your own health. Get in touch today if you have talked with your family members about their cancer risk factors and would like to create an action plan or arrange genetic testing.


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