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Share family health history at the Thanksgiving table

Turkey day is about more than sharing a meal – it’s also National Family Health History Day – a day to share potentially life-saving health info with loved ones.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Family around the dinner table for the holidays.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Many of us are planning a big family get together this week.

But turkey day is about more than sharing a meal – it’s also National Family Health History Day – a day to share potentially life-saving health information with loved ones.

According to Charis Eng, M.D., Ph.D., a genetics expert at Cleveland Clinic, there are several ‘red flags’ to keep an ear out for.

One red flag is learning a family member was diagnosed with more than one type of cancer.

“We always say, guilt by association,” she said. “For example, if you hear of one person having breast cancer and ovarian cancer, it usually says there’s something genetic.”

Another red flag is a family member diagnosed with a disease at a young age.

For example, Dr. Eng said breast cancer is typically diagnosed in women between the ages of 55-65. So, learning that an aunt or a grandma was diagnosed in her twenties or thirties, is a good reason to get checked out.

There are also very rare genetic diseases that can impact families.

If more than one family member is diagnosed with a rare disease, Dr. Eng said there is a likelihood that the condition may run in the family.

She said it’s important to keep in mind, depending on the age of your family members, or the cultures in which they were raised, some relatives might not be forthcoming about sharing personal health information.

In these cases, it’s best to pull them aside and ask questions in private.

“Usually for the shyer folks, take them aside, speak privately with them, as opposed to when there’s a great big table, and everyone’s exchanging stuff,” said Dr. Eng. “Maybe they just want a little privacy and will say something like, ‘Hey, let me tell you a secret – grandma died at 35 of ovarian cancer,’ – and that would be a major red flag.”

Dr. Eng said learning your family’s health history is the quickest and most inexpensive way to determine your personal disease risk, because the more you learn, the better able you are to get the right testing and catch a problem early.

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