Thursday, November 24, 2022, is not only Thanksgiving Day, but also National Family Health History Day.
Knowing your family health history can help you and your medical providers take steps that can lower your chances of developing a disease. Some families that have a history of cancer, for example, can benefit from early screening to diagnose cancer at a more treatable stage. Even though you can’t change your family health history, you may be able to benefit from changes in certain behaviors, such as smoking, not exercising or being active, and poor eating habits.
Genetic Counselors Can Help You Decipher Your Family Health History
Genetic counselors are valuable resources to help review patterns in the family history and determine how the information may affect your health risks and medical decisions, such as genetic testing.
Mass General’s genetic counselors in the Center for Cancer Risk Assessment provide comprehensive care for patients and families that have a history of hereditary cancer. In addition to providing screening, prevention options and support for patients and families with hereditary cancer predisposition genes, the hospital’s genetic counselors help to identify families that may have a hereditary cancer syndrome and provide genetic testing. The certified and licensed genetic counselors are experienced in helping patients gather the information they need to make informed healthcare decisions.
Mass General encourages you to take advantage of this time when your family is assembled and discuss family health history. Talking with your family about health problems and diseases may seem awkward at first but being in control of the information can help you take proactive steps to protect your health and share the information with relatives. Below are some questions to get you started.
Questions to Ask Family Members for Health History
· What medical conditions do your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or grandparents have?
· Is there anyone in your family who has or had cancer? If so, what type of cancer and what age were they diagnosed?
· Has anyone in the family passed away, especially at a young age? If so, what was the cause and age of death?
· What is your family’s ancestry – from what countries did your ancestors come to the US?
It is important to recognize that medical and family histories can change over time, so it is a good idea to have these discussions about family health history every year.