Collecting and Understanding Your Family History

Knowing and acting on your family health history in an important way to protect your health. Many of your physical traits (such as eye color, hair color, and height) are inherited. So, too, are risks for certain genetic conditions and health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. By collecting your family’s health history, you can learn what health problems you may be at increased risk for in the future. Discussing this information with your doctor is critical in determining how you can reduce your risks together.

For instance, people at increased risk for cancer may be able to reduce their risk through earlier and increased screening and some lifestyle changes. Finding out your family history can benefit both you and your relatives.

How to Collect Your Family History

Does cancer run in your family? There are tools available to help you ask your family the right questions to better understand your risk for hereditary cancer.

Older relatives are often good sources of information. Whatever information you discover will be helpful. As each generation ages, important information can be forgotten or lost – so now is the time to start your project!

If you are adopted, you may be able to learn some of your family history through the parent(s) that adopted you or from adoption agency records.

When you are collecting family history information, you only need to be concerned with family members related to you by blood. This includes you parent, grandparents, children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Here are some online resources to help you gather and record your family’s health history:

We do not inherit cancer – we can inherit an increased risk for cancer.