|Thanksgiving Day marks Family Health History Day, an annual national public health campaign to encourage people to better understand what health characteristics run in their families. Has your mother, sister or grandmother had breast or ovarian cancer? Has your father had prostate cancer? Is there a history of colon cancer, diabetes or high cholesterol in your family? If so, you also could be at risk. John Presutti, D.O., a Mayo Clinic family medicine physician, says don't just talk about your family health history. Act on it. It could save your life.
When John Presutti, D.O., a Mayo Clinic family medicine physician, was increasingly finding himself on the front lines of a direct-to-consumer genetic testing boom, he saw an opportunity.
"More and more patients were doing at-home genetic testing and bringing results to the office," Dr. Presutti says. "It really made sense to me that in family medicine we could be missing opportunities to recommend that patients receive genetic counseling and genetic testing based on their family history."
Dr. Presutti, realizing the potential for reducing late-stage cancer diagnoses and saving lives, decided he wanted to further integrate genomics into his everyday medical decision-making for his patients. His quest led him to Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine, where he joined with a team of experts working to unravel the complexities of the human genome in effort to precisely diagnose, treat and predict disease.
As a family physician, Dr. Presutti began to see how his role was essential in helping identify patients at high risk for cancer and referring them for genetic testing or counseling when needed.
"We know that approximately 10% of cancers are considered inherited, and there are simple guidelines that exist where we can spend some time discussing a patient's family health history, create some awareness for them, and potentially give them a better outcome," Dr. Presutti says. "If I can help identify those patients at high risk, then we can start screening them earlier and avoid the situation of metastatic cancer and early cancer deaths."
Dr. Presutti emphasizes to his patients that being predisposed to cancer does not mean they will definitely develop the disease, but he says uncovering hidden inherited genetic mutations can lead to opportunities for early screenings and preventive measures, cancer management, and targeted cancer therapies.
Here are some examples of family cancer syndromes:
"The biggest advice I would give is that if you're with your family this Thanksgiving, spend a few moments to share some of that family health history information," he says. "And if a red flag goes up, report that to your doctor. It could actually save someone's life."
How to talk to your family about their health history
Dr. Presutti suggests that people ask their relatives about diseases they have had, and when they were diagnosed. Here is an example of some questions:
Dr. Presutti says a red flag should go up if any family members have any of these health history situations listed by the National Cancer Institute:
What to do with the information
If you have a family health history of disease, here are some steps to take:
Genetic counseling at Mayo Clinic
The Mayo Clinic Genetic Counseling Team in the Department of Clinical Genomics helps patients and their families by providing information and support to help them understand their family history. The team also works closely with physicians and researchers in Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine to help patients review predictive testing options that may allow early identification of genetic risks.
The team of counselors also monitor guidelines for genetic testing, notifying health care providers when a new test is available that may improve diagnosis or help identify targeted treatments for a specific disease.
For more information on genetic testing, visit Mayo Clinic's Department of Clinical Genomics.
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