Using Family History to Guide Cancer Prevention

Family History and Cancer Prevention

There are many factors that impact your patients’ risk to develop certain cancers, including whether or not they have a family history of the disease, which can significantly impact the likelihood they may develop cancers such as breast, colorectal, and prostate. Individuals with a strong family history of cancer may have a hereditary cancer syndrome and be at significantly increased risk for cancer.  Knowledge about these risk factors can guide early detection and prevention, here are three ways how:

Understand your patient’s cancer risk:

To obtain a detailed family history, it is important for you to ask your patients about a history of cancer in at least 3 generations, including their children, siblings, parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, and first cousins. Important information to collect includes the type of cancer and age of diagnosis. You can then use this information to understand if your patient meets criteria for genetic testing and also if they may be at an increased risk for certain cancers. Implementing a hereditary cancer questionnaire in your clinic can help easily collect this information.

Make a personalized management plan:

Once you understand your patient’s risk for certain cancers, you can make them a personalized management plan for cancer screening. General population cancer screening may not be sufficient for a patient who has an inherited increased risk for cancer. Some of your patients may need earlier or more frequent cancer screening, which will increase early detection of cancers.

Additionally, for patients who have a very high risk for certain cancers, such as those with a mutation in a hereditary cancer gene, you may consider cancer prevention options, like prophylactic surgery or chemoprevention. For example, women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have up to an 87% risk for breast cancer and therefore may consider a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy to significantly reduce their lifetime risk for breast cancer.

Empower patients and their family members:

A better understanding of their cancer risks and a personalized management plan empowers your patients to take control of their health. If a patient knows they have a significantly increased risk for cancer, they may be more likely to implement suggested lifestyle changes and adhere to recommended screening and management. Your patients can also discuss this information with their family members, teaching them about their risks and urging them to work with their healthcare providers to develop a personalized management plan.

Knowing can mean early detection and prevention. Learn how to get started with genetic testing.



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