Cancer Genetics 101: The Importance of Knowing Your Family’s Medical History

Our family history plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being.  As a licensed genetic counselor at ProMedica Cancer Institute, Kelly Morse depends on her patients’ ability to answer questions about their family’s health. Although it may sound like a simple request, it can be much harder than you think — and virtually impossible, in some cases.

Actually, when asked what‘s the most important advice you could give your patients, Morse said, “Keeping a file with information about your family’s medical history should be a priority for everyone. As a parent, passing down detailed notes about your ancestors’ health to your children can be an invaluable gift. Once a loved one is gone, it becomes very difficult to recall this vital data.”

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Kelly Morse is a licensed genetic counselor at ProMedica Cancer Institute.

So here’s your first homework assignment for our Cancer Genetics 101 course:

1. Start by making a list of your ancestors and immediate family members. It may be helpful to layout the information in a “family tree” format.

Example:    

Grandparents

Parents

Siblings

Children

Aunts/Uncles

Cousins

2. Next to each name write down any major health issues, especially cancer diagnoses in this case, and at what age.

3. It may also be helpful to include notes about your loved ones treatment journey. Including lab work and other tests can be especially helpful as well. These details can help tell the story and impact future care and treatment of you or your family.

If you take the time to complete this initial assignment, you’ll be glad you did. A verbal interview or review of each patient’s family history is the first and most important step in every cancer genetic assessment Morse completes. These, and the answers to other questions she may ask, help to determine what management suggestions she makes as well as whether or not additional testing is suggested now or later.

Morse is the only board-certified genetics counselor specializing in cancer genetics in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. She is an integral member of the ProMedica Cancer Institute as well as ProMedica Fostoria Community Hospital’s Cancer and Infusion Center team where she holds a monthly cancer genetics clinic. Morse also works out of ProMedica Bixby Hospital’s Hickman Cancer Center on a monthly basis.

To learn more about ProMedica’s cancer genetic program, please visit www.promedica.org/cancergenetics.

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