Cancer Care

Family Discussions about Cancer History Can Save Lives

December 16, 2020

Family Discussions about Cancer History Can Save Lives

Here’s a gift you can give the relatives this holiday. Have a talk about your family’s history of cancer. It may feel like a heavy topic, but knowing if a type of cancer runs in the family empowers everyone to reduce their risk and potentially avoid a serious diagnosis.

It’s important to note that you can get cancer even if your family doesn’t have a history. In fact, just 5 to 10 percent of all cancer cases are inherited. That means most don’t have a family history of cancer before they are diagnosed.

But some do have a family history of cancer, due to an abnormal gene that gets passed from generation to generation. Cancer can also “run” in families because they share the same behaviors which raise their risk, such as smoking, sedentary lifestyle or unhealthy eating habits. These families are at risk for hereditary cancer syndromes.

How to Discuss Your Family Cancer Risks

If you’re getting together on Zoom this holiday season, bring up the topic. Talk about what relatives have had cancer and whether anyone has been genetically tested. Take a few minutes to remind family members of what they can do–regardless of family history–to protect themselves. Things to discuss with your provider and family members include:

  • Tell your health care provider about your family history. This is a question your provider probably asked the first time you visited, but it’s important to bring up new information as you learn it.
  • Talk to your doctor about what tests you need and when to get screenings which prevent some types of cancer from occurring or detect them when they’re easier to treat.
  • Learn your genetic makeup if you have a strong history of cancer. Start by asking your provider to refer you to for cancer risk assessment. Together you can determine if genetic testing is right for you.
  • If you yourself have had cancer share this information with your family members.
  • Consider speaking with a cancer risk specialist or genetic specialist to determine if you should have genetic testing, this can provide valuable information for your family members.
  • Address any health habits which might increase your risk for cancer, such as smoking or a sedentary lifestyle.

Red Flags for Hereditary Cancer

Some red flags for hereditary cancer syndromes include the following:

Remember, early detection and healthy habits are essential regardless of your family history of cancer. We can all take steps to prevent some types of cancer from occurring – or catch it at its earliest, most treatable stage. Reach out to your provider our our CHI Health Cancer team for more info.

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