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Why Does My Family History Matter?

This video depicts an important principle about the significance of knowing your family history. I’m not talking about a distant cousin who may have had a different cancer than yours. Most cancers do not have a hereditary basis. But knowing if your family has a history of cancer is still a valuable piece of information for you and your doctor to discuss. The inherited susceptibility genes for breast cancer and colon cancer are now known, and increasingly patients are becoming to realize the importance of having this information. In this video, for example, where a genetic test revealed an inherited form of gastric (stomach) cancer and for which preventative surgical treatment was an option. Notice in the story that family members made different choices about cancer prevention, and there is no right or wrong answer. Some family members who inherited the gene elected to have their stomachs removed so there was no chance of developing a deadly type of cancer, and some chose to wait.

I remember one of my melanoma patients with 4 family members who all had melanoma. No doctor before me had asked about their family history, and the family didn’t know that there is an inheritable form of melanoma so they didn’t make the connection. So my message is this: A component of “taking charge” of your cancer is to know your family history and to talk with your doctor about it.

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