Knowing is Not Enough – part II

A few days ago  we started speaking about knowing and sharing your family medical history. By gathering this information and sharing with your doctor you will be able to start regular screenings for prevention. Finding disease early can often mean better health in the long run. Here is part II of that article.

How to Act on Your Family Health History

Knowing about your family health history of a disease can motivate you to take steps to lower your chances of getting the disease. You can’t change your family health history, but you can change unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, not exercising or being active, and poor eating habits. Talk with your doctor about steps that you can take, including whether you should consider early screening for the disease. If you have a family health history of disease, you may have the most to gain from lifestyle changes and screening tests.

What to do if you have a family health history of:

  • Colorectal cancer: If you have a mother, father, sibling, or other relatives who had colorectal cancer before the age 50 or have multiple close family members with colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you should have screenings at a younger age, doing them more frequently, and getting a colonoscopy. In some cases, your doctor may recommend that you have genetic counseling, and a genetic counselor may recommend genetic testing based on your family health history.
  • Breast or ovarian cancer: If you have a parent, sibling, or child with breast cancer, talk to your doctor about when you should start mammography screening. If your relative was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 50, if you have a close relative with ovarian cancer, or if you have a male relative with breast cancer, your doctor might refer you for cancer genetic counseling to find out if genetic testing is right for you. In some cases, your doctor might recommend taking tamoxifen or raloxifene, drugs that can decrease risk of developing breast cancer in some women.
  • Heart disease: If you have a family health history of heart disease, you can take steps to lower your chances of getting heart disease. These steps can include eating a healthy diet, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, limiting your alcohol use, having any screening tests that your doctor recommends, and, in some cases, taking medication.
  • Diabetes: If your mother, father, or sibling has type 2 diabetes, you could have pre-diabetes and are more likely to get type 2 diabetes yourself. But there are important steps you can take to prevent type 2 diabetes and reverse pre-diabetes, if you have it. Take this test to find out if you could have pre-diabetes. Ask your doctor whether you need earlier screening for diabetes. Find out more about the National Diabetes Prevention Program’s lifestyle change program and how to find a program near you. Take the Family Health History Quiz to learn more about family health history and diabetes, and learn how to prevent type 2 diabetes.
  • Osteoporosis: This is a medical condition where bones become weak and are more likely to break. A family health history of osteoporosis is one of a number of factors that make you more likely to develop osteoporosis. For example, if you are a white woman whose mother or father fractured a hip, talk to your doctor about screening for osteoporosis earlier (at about age 55, compared with age 65 for most women). You can use the FRAX Risk Assessment tool to learn if you should be screened.
  • Hereditary Hemochromatosis: Hereditary hemochromatosis is a disorder in which the body can build up too much iron and can lead to serious liver damage and other problems. If you have a brother or sister with hemochromatosis, you may be more likely to develop the condition yourself. Talk to your doctor about testing for hemochromatosis and whether you should take steps to lower the amount of iron in your body.

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