Compile family health history to help guide care


Genetic testing for cancer risk and other conditions has advanced rapidly in the last few years. It is more widely available and affordable now, thanks to changes in technology and competition among labs offering the tests. Expanded knowledge of genetics has led to better insurance coverage, which allows patients to receive the testing needed to make informed choices about their health. Knowing your family health history can help you and your physicians determine if you would qualify for any genetic testing.

Your family health history is often a valuable tool that you and your physicians can use to make sure you are receiving the appropriate screening and prevention options. For example, this information can tell your physicians what types of cancer screenings you qualify for, how often your cholesterol should be checked, or if you meet the requirements for any genetic testing that may help to further evaluate your risks. Gathering and documenting a family health history can also benefit future generations since your children, grandchildren, and beyond can benefit from the effort you put into gathering your family health history.

To document a health history, gather information for at least three generations of relatives related to you by blood: parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, children and grandchildren.

Information to gather:

• First name

• Relationship to you (example: aunt, grandfather, etc.)

• What side of the family they are from (mother’s or father’s)

• How old individuals are or how old they were when they passed away

• Individuals’ health conditions and at what age those conditions were diagnosed (example: colon cancer, age 55)

• Individuals’ known genetic conditions or genetic test results (example: malignant hyperthermia, diagnosed by muscle biopsy)

The next step is to organize the information you gathered. This is so it can be easily understood by your physicians and future generations. You can use online tools to draw your family tree or you can make a document on a computer to organize the information.

Once you have your organized family health history, share it with your relatives and discuss it with your physicians. Ask if any genetic counseling or genetic testing is indicated or if there are any specialized screenings you should be receiving.

Melissa Gilstrap, MS, CGC, is a genetic counselor at Parker Adventist Hospital. For additional information, please contact To learn more, please attend the upcoming presentation and interactive discussion as noted below.

This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. Please join us on June 6 at Legacy Village at Castle Pines, 535 Castle Pines Parkway, Castle Pines, 80108. Our presentation and community conversation will begin at 10:15 a.m. Melissa Gilstrap, genetic counselor with Parker Adventist Hospital, will be our guest speaker and will be presenting “Family History and YOU” and will share online tools to document your family health history. For more information, go online to, email or call 303-663-7681.


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