How important is family history in analyzing my risk for cancer?

6:01 PM, Sep 27, 2011   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - It's one of the risks for cancer that's completely out of your control.

In this week's "8 Ways to Prevent Cancer Segment," a closer look at why knowing your family's health history is so important.

"Having a family history probably means you should be more vigilant, talk with your doctor, get screened earlier or more often," said Dr. Aimee James, a colon cancer researcher at Siteman Cancer Center.

The rule of thumb is, if you've had a first degree relative with cancer, your mother, father, brother or sister, you should start screening tests for that cancer ten years before the age your relative was when they were diagnosed.

"So if a parent was diagnosed at age 55 with colon cancer you should start thinking about it and start talking with your doctor when you hit 45," said Dr. James.

But many times, you won't know these details if you don't ask. Dr. James says besides colon cancer, breast and ovarian cancer can also run in families. But talking about it all with relatives is a conversation many don't like to have.

"A lot of us don't often talk about it with our family members," admitted Dr. James. "But knowing it is really important for knowing what to do and how to keep yourself healthy."

It's thought five to ten percent of all cancers are inherited. And if you're lucky enough to have cancer-free relatives, don't consider yourself off the hook completely.

"Not having a family history doesn't mean you can let it all slide," said Dr. James. "You've still got to get screened regularly and keep an eye out for stuff."


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