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Talking With Your Family

Learn about genes and cancer, signs of hereditary cancer, genetic counseling, types of genetic tests and what results mean for you and your family.

Your family medical history

Geneticists experts examine a family’s medical history to determine the likelihood that the cancer in the family is hereditary. You can assist them by compiling medical information from relatives on both sides of your family.

Which relatives' medical history should you collect?

Typically a genetics specialist looks at three generations of a family’s medical history to determine if there is a hereditary pattern. 

  • First degree relatives
    • Siblings
    • Children
    • Parents
  • Second degree relatives
    • Half-siblings
    • Uncles and aunts
    • Grandparents
    • Grandchildren
    • Nieces and nephews
  • Third degree relatives
    • Cousins
    • Great grandparents
    • Great-aunts and Great-uncles

Important medical information

If possible, you should collect the following family medical information for your genetic counseling session:

  • which family members were diagnosed with cancer
  • age of diagnosis
  • type of cancer, including pathology results
  • genetic test results

The more detailed the information, the more helpful it can be. Hospitals are not required to retain records beyond 10 years, but they sometimes have older records available.

It’s equally important to share your medical information with relatives. Request copies of your records and lab reports to keep for your own personal records. A genetics expert can determine which information will be most helpful to your relatives.

You may want to use the FORCE Family History Chart to help you collect and organize information about cancer in your family. 

Updated 08/11/2017

FORCE:Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered