Family Health History Facts

A version of this article appeared May 12, 2013, on  with the headline: Family Health History Facts:

You’re busy, she’s busy… there’s every reason not to talk about your family’s health history. But it couldn’t be more important, and here’s how to do it.

Uncle Joe had heart disease, cousin Marsha had breast cancer, Grandma Gertie was sharp as a tack until age 102. Think you know everything about your family’s health history? There’s a good chance you don’t. A recent National Cancer Institute study found that people frequently report incorrect information about their family history of cancer to their doctors. Important details about medical conditions like this may not have been passed down if your family never explicitly discussed it, and in some cases, older generations may even have swept health issues like cancer, miscarriage, or Alzheimer’s under the rug. While most family members probably have some knowledge of your brood’s collective health history, women often tend to be the main documenters, so starting a conversation with your mom is a great jumping-off point. (It’s also a good idea to talk to your mother-in-law about your husband’s family history, which could impact your own kids’ health one day.)

In addition to gleaning crucial — even lifesaving — information, you may also find that these talks can serve as a springboard for meaningful moments and create memories that will last a lifetime. Here, nine topics everyone should ask about, and some sample questions to get the conversation going:

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