Connecting the Family Cancer History Dots

Knowing your family’s health history is very important. Knowing if your family has a history of cancer is vital.

Being aware of a family history of cancer can provide important information that you and your physician can use to determine if you’re a candidate for genetic testing, more frequent screenings, and/or other preventive measures.

There have been more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes discovered to date. Many of the cancers associated with these syndromes can be prevented with proper and timely screenings.

Connecting the dots for you and your doctor doesn’t have to be an elaborate, overwhelming project. You just need to get something down on paper that you can take to your doctor that can start a conversation about being proactive about cancer screening.

First, contact your parents or siblings to find out what they know about cancer in the family. Then branch out and talk to other living members of the family. Then contact grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins -- if you’re related by blood, you are connected by genes. And if there are any deceased relatives, be sure to research the cause of death and the age at which they died. Do not be afraid to talk to your family about your cancer concerns. Talking openly about cancer, while not always easy, will not kill you or your relatives. However, to be bluntly honest, ignoring a cancer threat to you or a loved one can and does kill.

Next, take out a sheet of paper and roughly sketch out a family health history pedigree chart. If there's a history of cancer be sure to include as much detail about any family member’s diagnosis as possible. (See image below.) Again, it does not have to be elaborate. You just need to get enough information down on paper to share with your doctor. And remember to be your own medical advocate. Do not let the doctor brush off your concerns.

Opening a dialog with your family and your doctor can save your life or a loved one’s life. Start connecting the dots today.