Health Team

Family history of cancer needs update in adulthood

Posted July 12, 2011 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 12, 2011 9:28 p.m. EDT

Kim Dorcheus lost her mom and grandmother to breast cancer. Her aunt survived the disease.

Given her family history, Dorcheus’ doctor recommended she undergo earlier and more intense screenings for the disease.

"I've seen first-hand how quick it can take someone's life,” Dorcheus said.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine tracked how 11,000 patients’ family cancer histories changed from the day they were born. They found that the history didn’t change much during childhood, but increased slightly when patients reached their 20s.

“You really see the most significant changes between the ages of 30 and 50,” said Dr. Sharon E. Plon, a professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“A doctor who, at age 30, might have thought you were at low-risk, by the age of 50, would actually now put you at a higher risk and would make recommendations for things like colonoscopy or breast MRI,” Plon said.

Based on family history, about 2 percent of patients qualified for an early colonoscopy at age 30. At age 50, that number tripled to 7 percent.

At age 30, 7 percent of women in the study qualified for breast cancer MRI, a more intense screening than mammography. By age 50, the number rose to 11 percent.

“That's why it's important for doctors to ask you more than once about your family history of cancer,” Plon said.

People should start conversations about their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles to find out what type of cancer they had and their age when diagnosed.

Dorcheus doesn't want her boys to go through what she did.

"I want to be there for my kids. I want to see them grow up. I want to see them get married and have kids and just kind of stop the cycle,” Dorcheus said.

Researchers recommend that a family medical history of cancer should be updated every 5 to 10 years during adulthood.