Georgia's Online Cancer Information Center

Does cancer run in your family?

6/09/2023, WJBF/Augusta ABC affiliate

*Note: The same television station ran an interview with Dr. Henson a few days after publishing this story. Watch it here.

For what do you turn to your family? Families are a source of love, support, inspiration and much more.

But do you turn to family members for information that could help to protect your health? You should! Families share genes, environment, and lifestyle, and together, those factors can provide clues to medical conditions that may run in a family. Health care professionals can use your family health history to help determine whether you, other family members, or future generations may have an increased risk of developing a medical condition.

If a close family member (a first or second degree relative) has a chronic condition such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or stroke, then you may have a higher risk of developing that condition too. A family health history may even predict something about your risk for diseases that are different from the ones your relatives have. For instance, it is common for autoimmune diseases to affect different members of a single family. A family history can also provide information about the risk of rarer conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia that are caused by mutations in a single gene.

Knowing your family health history allows you to take steps to reduce your health risks. For example, if there is a history of cancer, your health care provider might recommend earlier and more frequent screenings. If you have a higher risk of heart disease or diabetes based on your family history, you may adopt healthier eating habits and more exercise to reduce your risk.

A FAMILY REUNION can provide a wonderful opportunity to gather health information from parents and grandparents, children, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces, and nephews. You should aim for health details from three generations for your family history. Ask about what major medical conditions have been diagnosed and at what age. For deceased family members, record the age of the onset of disease and the age and cause of death.

The Hereditary Cancer Clinic at the Georgia Cancer Center studies familial risk for cancer. The most frequent ‘red flags’ for inherited risk include breast cancer under age 50, triple negative breast cancer at any age, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, pancreas cancer at any age, and prostate cancer at age 45 or less or if there is metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis. This is a limited list.

Discuss your family health history with your primary care provider at your next appointment or call the Hereditary Cancer Clinic at 706-721-6458. Our Pancreas Cancer Screening Program is accessible by visiting

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved.

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Advancing Cancer Care through Partnerships and Innovation

Georgia CORE is a statewide nonprofit that leverages partnerships and innovation to attract more clinical trials, increase research, and promote education and early detection to improve cancer care for Georgians in rural, urban, and suburban communities across the state.