Nov 08, 2018 8:00 AM

a family eats thanksgiving dinner together

In honor of Genetic Counselor Awareness Day November 8

As the holidays approach and families come together, it gives us the chance to share love, laughter, and…family health information. Your family’s health history may seem like the last thing on your mind when you’re making merry, but knowing this information can save lives.

If you have family members who have had cancer, your own risk may be increased. If you know you have a higher risk, you may need extra cancer screening or choose other options to help prevent cancer. For example, if your family has a history of colon cancer, you may need to have a colonoscopy earlier and more often than a person without a family history of colon cancer. Or, if you have a certain genetic mutation that puts you at very high risk of breast cancer, you may opt to have a preventive mastectomy.

Knowing your family’s cancer history may help prevent you and other family members from getting cancer. Try these tips for talking:

  • Be prepared. Write out questions that you want to ask. Keep in mind what information would be most helpful for you to know about your family history. You may even want to practice this conversation with a friend.
  • Find the right time. Whether it’s one-on-one or with a small group, it is often best to plan on a more intimate conversation. One idea is to ask relatives to set time aside to speak with you in advance.
  • Be flexible. If family members are not open about their medical history, consider a different approach, such as writing a letter or email. Tell them your questions and why this information is important to you.

If you learn there are family members who have or had cancer, try to learn more specific info:

  • The type of cancer and how the family member is related to you
  • What age the family member was when he/she was diagnosed with cancer
  • If the family member has passed away, the age at death and cause of death
  • Results of any previous cancer-related genetic testing

Once you have this information, share it with your doctor. Your doctor can use it to help come up with a plan to reduce your cancer risk. Your doctor may also refer you to a genetic counselor. Genetic counselors are trained professionals who can help review your medical and family history. They can talk with you about personalized cancer screening and prevention options and whether your family may need genetic testing.

We encourage you to celebrate with your family, but also take the time to share important health information. It may be the best gift you give each other this year.

From our family to yours, Happy Holidays!

The genetic counselors in HCI’s Family Cancer Assessment Clinic can meet with you to help you better understand your personal or family cancer risks and answer any questions you or your doctor may have. We can also help you come up with a plan to reduce and/or prevent your lifetime risk of cancer based on your medical or family history. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call 801-587-9555.

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Cancer touches all of us.

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