Gathering your family medical history

family medical historyIt’s not uncommon for younger family members to ask where their grandparents came from, where they lived or how many children they had. Playing detective to figure out the names, locations and relationships of older relatives or distant generations can be fun. Gathering your family medical history can be interesting, too, with the added value of helping the people you love. The results might reveal a family connection to inherited conditions and diseases. Uncovering these kinds of family links can help doctors take better care of your loved ones, including recommending screenings, genetic testing, and looking for early warning signs of disease, including cancer.

Jessica Everett and Victoria Raymond, U-M genetic counselors, say that red flags concerning cancer in your family’s medical history can include:

  • More than one relative with the same or related cancers
  • Being younger than average when diagnosed
  • Having more than one primary cancer
  • Having a rare or unusual cancer

More tips:

  • Use existing family networks to help, and tag that relative who seems to keep tabs on anyone anyway, to help you get the word out!
  • Start with relatives who are likely to respond positively.
  • Use family reunions or gatherings, the phone, email and social media to reach out.

By organizing your family’s medical history, you may be able to identify an at-risk relative who can benefit from genetic testing and/or screening. If you worry that your family might not understand, or that you can’t explain it clearly, here are resources that can help you get started.

Learn more about cancer, genetics and collecting a family history

geneticsThe University of Michigan Cancer Genetics Clinic provides counseling for people with a personal or family history of cancers that may have genetic links. If a link is confirmed, our specialized physician and genetic counselors will develop a plan for additional screening or lifestyle changes to help reduce cancer risk.



University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer CenterThe University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.