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Branch out: create a medical family tree

Karen Miller
Branch out: create a medical family tree
Sarah’s family tree may indicate a family history of cancer. Particularly striking is that her father had breast cancer; a brother had prostate cancer at a young age; and an uncle had both prostate and pancreatic cancer. Sarah will probably be advised to get tested and start mammograms at a younger age. PHOTOS: Adobe Stock, Unsplash. ILLUSTRATION: J. Storin

Adding a medical history to your family tree can reveal valuable information that may help you make decisions about your own health.

If your family history suggests the existence of a hereditary cancer, you might consider genetic testing, which will help determine a course of treatment. For instance, screenings can be started at an earlier age. Preventive surgery is another option. Keep in mind that a positive test does not guarantee that you will get cancer. It indicates increased risk. Nor does a negative result protect you from cancer. It means that your risk is average and similar to that of the general public.

On the web
To develop your family history online, visit:

Tips to get you started

  • Include at least three generations if possible
  • Note the relative’s age at diagnosis and the type of cancer
  • Note the age and cause of death
  • Watch for cancers that occur in more than one relative
  • Look for cancers that occur at an earlier age than expected
  • Look for multiple cancers in the same individual
  • Look for unusual cancers, such as breast cancer in men

 

www.dana-farber.org/community

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