The Value of Family History

Family history is often considered when determining risk factors for patients, especially in the case of colorectal cancer. The subject can be difficult to discuss for those who have personal experience via a family member or friend. However, understanding its impact can potentially save lives.  

What’s the value?  

Family history can be a critical factor in identifying genetic risk factors. These include Lynch Disease. Along with genetic factors, family history can  also provide insight into trends relating to the potential for a patient to develop colorectal cancer.

Furthermore, numerous colon cancer related organizations, such as Colorectal Cancer Alliance, Fight Colorectal Cancer, and the Colon Cancer Coalition recommend looking into and also documenting family history in order to identify risk factors.  

What to look for 

Many groups and organizations share similar guidelines in potential red flags within a family’s history. Fight Colorectal Cancer describes looking into “first-degree” and “second-degree” relatives.  

First-degree relatives include parents, children, and siblings. Second-degree relatives include aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews, and also grandchildren. Patients with first-degree relatives who have fought the disease stand a higher risk than those with second-degree relatives. 

“If any of your biological relatives have been diagnosed with cancer before age 60, your risk may be doubled,” the website adds.  

How do you document your history?  

The American Medical Association provides a downloadable PDF to help explain how to create a proper family history chart. As patients create this document, they can easily document who in their family may suffer, or have suffered, from specific diseases.  

Once this chart is complete, patients can easily discuss risk factors with their physicians, and identify potential increased risk factors. Future generations may also use these records. Again, should a child be asked at a future visit about potential colon cancer risks, they would then have a detailed history of which to review.  

Additional Resources  

For more information on gathering family history, or understanding how family history can increase your risk for colon cancer or other diseases, visit the links below and also the websites of the organizations listed above:   

Geisinger Health System: Family History Splainer 

National Human Genome Research Institute 
Disease InfoSearch 
Medline Plus


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