The Benefit of a Family History

One of the most effective tools for identifying risk of developing certain conditions is a family history. With a family history, providers can often better prepare patients for their future and the future of their children.

“Most people do not know their family history that well,” says Jay Flanagan, MS, CGC, senior genetic counselor at Sanford Health. “Often times, they know that grandma passed away with cancer, or that uncle John died very early in life, but the important details of diseases or health conditions are sometimes left out, which may be what we really need to know.”

Family history can be likened to a map, according to Flanagan. It can help our patients get a lay of the land, where their health is concerned. Cancer – and other diseases or conditions – can have a genetic connection and appropriate genetic testing could be a benefit. But without any additional information, such as information regarding blood relatives who may have had the same disease or a related condition, it’s difficult to know what, if any, testing is necessary.

“With a complete family history, we can help our patients learn if any health concerns are genetic or completely random incidents,” Flanagan says. “Just think about the valuable information that could be gained through a thorough understanding of family history. This information could be useful for your own health and that of future generations.”

Once this information is gathered, Sanford’s genetic counselors and medical geneticists can determine options for possible genetic testing with patients and their primary care providers.

“We want patients to understand what’s going on, what their risks are and what we can do about it,” Flanagan adds. “It could help them paint a clearer picture of their families’ health and what should be watched.”

Call (605) 312-GENE for more information.