Family Health History Can be Vital in Guiding Cancer Screening, Treatment

Every individual should know if disease exists in their lineage

DAYTON, Ohio (November 13, 2015) – A strong family bond can be hard to break especially when it comes to cancer. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology(ASCO), up to 10 percent of all cancer cases are considered hereditary making it ever more important for individuals to know the details of their family tree.

“Family history plays a strong role in how physicians care for their patients,” says Chandan Gupta, MD, a Premier HealthNet physician at Monroe Medical Center. “It guides the type of preventive care we give and might be one of the strongest influences in understanding the risks for developing health problems such as cancer.”

There are three main factors that can lead to a disease process including a person’s genetics, their environment and their lifestyle. Genetics may be the only uncontrollable factor that is passed down from a person’s family tree, however, the other two factors can also be closely linked by a person’s family, the American Cancer Society(ACS) says.

“Families tend to have the same values, they eat the same types of foods and many times share the same environment,” Dr. Gupta says. “Family members, for instance, who are sharing the same living space are going to be exposed to the same type of carcinogens such as smoke increasing their risk for certain cancers.”

An accurate family history will go back three generations and include health issues from every possible relative including siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. Collecting such data can be time-consuming and difficult given that many families live miles apart and many don’t openly share medical issues. But Dr. Gupta says developing a family tree of health issues can be vital and encourages individuals to take the time to do it as early as possible.

“There are many ways an individual can go about collecting the information,” she says. “Viewing death certificates of family members, going on genealogy websites and even having honest conversations with family members is a good start.”

There are several clues that can point to hereditary cancer, according to the ASCO, such as multiple relatives with cancer on the same side of the family, cancers diagnosed at an early age, and a single person with multiple tumors (especially in the same organ). 

Likewise, according to the ACS, there are certain things that make it more likely cancers in a family are caused by a family cancer syndrome:


  • Multiple cases of an uncommon or rare type of cancer such as kidney cancer.
  • Cancers occurring at younger ages than usual such as colon cancer in a 20-year-old
  • Cancers occurring in both of a pair of organs such as both eyes, kidneys or breasts.
  • More than one childhood cancer in a set of siblings.
  • Cancer occurring in a sex not usually affected such as breast cancer in a man.


Inherited cancers can be verified through genetic testing, which is the analysis of genes, chromosomes or proteins to help predict the risk of disease, identify carriers of the disease, diagnose the disease or determine the likely course of a disease, the ASCO says.

Breast and ovarian cancer caused by the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation are perhaps one of the most well-known genetic causes of cancer, however, many more exist. Certain types of colon, pancreatic, kidney and nerve and tissue cancers also have genetic links to them. In fact, more than 900 genetic tests are available for many different cancers, the ASCO says.

Collecting a comprehensive family history can be intimidating. Dr. Gupta encourages individuals to just focus on one step at a time, and remember what information is important to collect such as the type of cancer diagnosed, age of diagnosis, whether the cancer is on the mother’s or father’s side, ethnicity, previous results of genetic testing, if any.

For more information on family history or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit

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