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How family history of cancer can influence cancer screening.

Updated: 5 days ago

Michelle Springer, MS, CGC - CGA-IGC Communications Committee

Screening plays an important role in the early detection of cancers and can even help prevent certain cancers, like colorectal cancer. 

While standard screening recommendations are appropriate for the general population, individuals who have a family history of cancer may need to start screening at a younger age and/or may qualify for additional cancer screening. 

Thus, knowing your family history is extremely important in determining what screening recommendations are appropriate for you.  Talk to your provider if you have a family history of cancer.  It may change your cancer screening regimen and could truly save your life!

Below are some common examples of screening that might be tailored based on your family history:

  • Family history of breast cancer – 

  • Having a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) or second-degree relative (aunt/uncle, niece/nephew, grandparent) with breast cancer, especially if diagnosed before age 50, may change your screening regimen.

  • A cancer risk assessment can help you determine if increased breast cancer screening, such as breast MRI, may be recommended and if breast screening should start at a younger age.  

  • Family history of colorectal cancer – 

  • National guidelines recommend colonoscopy screening starting at age 40 for all individuals who have a first-degree relative with colon cancer OR an advanced colon polyp, regardless of the age at which their relative was diagnosed.

If an individual has a first-degree relative who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer prior to the age of 50, colonoscopy screening starts ten years prior to the age of diagnosis.

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