Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Family History Tidbits

In my search for useful news today, I have come across something near and dear to my heart. Karen Lu at M.D. Anderson has posted on the importance of taking a family history. Her spin is obviously tilted towards cancer, but the benefits of family history or just as important in diseases like heart disease.

From the site:

“Family gatherings are the perfect time to ask family members detailed questions about their health history,” says Karen Lu, M.D., co-medical director of the Clinical Cancer Genetics program at M. D. Anderson.
“It is important to gather information about the health history of your parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even your cousins.”

She points out that there are some red flags to watch out for in your family.

1. Early onset of Cancer. (I say not only cancer, any disease is important here)
2. Family member with 2 or more "related cancers" (These include things like breast and ovaries. For more info see here)
3. Two or more family members who have related types of cancers. (Too bad some insurers require 3 members to be afflicted in order to pay for BRCA testing)

If you find some of these red flags you should at a minimum ask your physician about genetic evaluation. If you live in the CT, NY, NJ area give Helix Health of Connecticut a call. Genetic Testing may be appropriate for you and evaluation is needed.

Genetic testing involves looking for abnormal genetic changes in a person’s blood sample. People who inherit abnormal genes from a parent may be at increased risk of developing cancer.

“The benefit for the cancer patient who tests positive for an abnormal gene is that doctors can use this information to determine if they are at increased risk for a second cancer and to help family members,” says Molly Daniels, a genetic counselor at M. D. Anderson.

For family members, the benefit to learning that a close relative carries an abnormal gene is that they too can be tested to determine if they are at increased risk for developing cancer.

Those who test positive may begin routine cancer screening exams at a younger age than what is usually advised for the public. High-risk screening enables health professionals to detect cancers as early as possible when there is the best chance of successful treatment and cure. Those who test negative can be reassured that they are not at increased risk because of family history.

The Sherpa Says: The major risk factor in both heart disease and cancer is family history. Perhaps more so in heart disease. Evaluation for these risks need to be done on an ongoing basis. Remember, your family history changes with time. So if you have taken your family's history, up date it yearly or when something you know has changed. A great tool for this is found at the HHS website!

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