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The Importance of Updating Your Family Medical History

It’s important to keep your family medical history current with your primary care physician. As you reach middle age, your parents or other siblings may have experienced serious health issues that you may want to be screened for. Initially, you provide your doctor with family medical history, but rarely do you think to update that information. Doctors use family medical history as a health resource to predict patients risks for disease later in life for things like cancer, high cholesterol and diabetes. Based on that history, your physician may recommend a healthy diet or fitness program.

According to a recent study the July 13th issue of JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that notifying your doctor of changes in your families cancer diagnosis can significantly change screening recommendations significantly—especially for those between the ages of 30 and 60.

Researchers found that just over 7 percent of 30 year old women would be recommended for early breast cancer screening based on their family history as provided to their doctor. By the time women reach 50 some 11.4 percent of them would be up for this more intensive screening—in addition to mammograms.

Another great example found in the study is 2.1 percent of 30 year olds would be recommended for early colonoscopy based on family history. If patients continue to report any new incidences of cancer in the family that number could hit 7.1 percent. This could account for millions of additional screenings since 50 is the recommended age for your first colonoscopy. By Acheson’s calculations, if the new study’s increases in colorectal cancer screening were instituted, an extra 1.7 million people would get colonoscopies each year.

Don’t wait for your doctor to ask you to update your family history, it’s your responsibility to notify your doctor when changes to your families medical history occur and to note the onset age of any disease . Once electronic health records (EHRs) become norm, “there is tremendous potential to ensure that people at higher risk of cancer are being screened earlier and using the best methods,” Plon said. Also, if record systems are integrated, family members might be able to sign off on a function “to have their diagnoses (and other information, such as test results) automatically populate family history sections in the EHRs of identified relatives,” Louise Acheson, of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, pointed out in an essay published in the same issue of JAMA.

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