Shaking the Family Tree

A patient’s family cancer history can provide clues toward a higher-than-average cancer risk and help you determine whether a patient should have earlier, more frequent or additional cancer screenings. Because gleaning this information can be difficult in a time-crunched office visit, ask patients to fill out a family history worksheet prior to their appointment. Putting pencil to paper on their own time can help them provide more complete information and get your patients thinking about their cancer risk and what they can do to manage it. The worksheet can help you spot red flags such as family members with:

  • the same cancer type or within a cancer syndrome (ie: breast and ovarian, colon and uterine, prostate and breast)
  • an early age cancer diagnosis, before age 50
  • more than one primary cancer
  • rare cancers like pancreatic or male breast cancer
  • a cancer type without risk factors, like a nonsmoker with lung cancer
  • inherited conditions like familial adenomatous polyposis