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Thanksgiving is a good time to learn about your family health history

Nicole Boxer, Certified Genetic Counselor

November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving is a good time to learn about your family health history

National Family Health History Day can open a discussion about health, genetics and ancestry.

Did it ever strike you how little you know about your relatives? You may know what countries they came from, or maybe you even have a family tree gathering dust in a trunk in the attic. But one of the most valuable things to learn about your ancestors is their health history.

Since 2004, Thanksgiving Day has also been celebrated as National Family Health History Day. Rather than talking about politics, take advantage of the opportunity of being together with family and talk about the health issues that may have affected family members going back three generations! Knowing these elements of your family’s health history and sharing them with your healthcare provider can help them assess your risk of acquiring these illnesses and develop personal goals for your health care.

Genetic tests can also be performed on a sample of blood or tissue. After people receive the results of their genetic tests, I often meet with them to help them understand their health risks based on their family history.  Of special importance would be those illnesses that repeat across generations – like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.

You can access a tool to help you have your family health history discussion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Nicole Boxer, MS, is a Certified Genetic Counselor at the Center for Cancer Care, White Plains Hospital.