We spend time with family during the holidays, and this Thanksgiving, you can share more than just turkey and pumpkin pie with each other. You can also care for your loved ones by sharing information about your family’s medical history that may help them make important decisions about their health.
Due to privacy laws, healthcare personnel are often unable to share patients’ medical records, even with family members. These measures are designed to allow patients to have control over their healthcare, and as a result, they require families to exchange medical information themselves.
Because we share DNA with our family members, this genetic makeup is often the key to understanding our health. Just like our hair color or height, certain medical conditions, like hereditary cancers, are associated with specific genetic mutations that our families share and pass down through generations. By exchanging medical information with each other, our families are able to gain a greater understanding about our DNA and how it affects our health.
Genetic testing is a helpful tool for determining potential risks and making informed decisions about your health. According to the American Cancer Society, “some women inherit changes [mutations] in certain genes that increase their risk of breast cancer [and possibly other cancers],” and genetic testing looks for these mutations. There are personal advantages and disadvantages to testing, and while it can be helpful, it is not deemed necessary or beneficial for all women.
Lyndsey Hayes watched her mom battle breast cancer twice and ovarian cancer once, so when the BRCA mutation screening became available in 1996, Lyndsey’s mom asked her if she wanted to get tested. Lyndsey wasn’t ready. When she was in her 30s, she decided to have the test and found out that she was BRCA-positive. She used this information to make the decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy. To read the rest of Lyndsey’s story, go here .
If you are interested in having genetic testing, speak to a genetics expert or genetics counselor. You will be asked in-depth questions about your family medical history, so try to gather as much information as possible before your appointment and not just about breast cancer. Call your relatives and see what they can tell you. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but remember, this is important information that can help you.
Knowing your family’s medical history is essential for your well-being, and keeping you and your loved ones informed is surely something to be thankful for!