Investigate Your Family Health History

24 Sep 2014 by Krystal Barter

Sue, a Pink Hope Outreach Ambassador and volunteer urges you to research your family health history and make a conscious decision about what you are going to do to protect your breast and ovarian health.

Sue Jones

My cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer last week. My family is small and to date no member has undertaken genetic testing. My mother and my aunt (my Mother’s only sibling) both passed away from breast cancer. My aunt had three children, two girls and a boy, the youngest girl died from ovarian cancer and now the other girl has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have a sister. All three of my cousins have children.

My cousin’s diagnosis made me think about complacency, about not making the hard decisions and about procrastinating. The last death in our family was in 1995 so it is easy to see the years go by without a cancer diagnosis and think is our family history really that bad? Am I worrying needlessly? Is all this screening and surgery really necessary? I will review this in a year – so easy to push away making a mammogram appointment, getting a referral to see a specialist and deferring the research into surgical options.

I am writing today about the importance of knowing your family health history and then making a decision and plan about what you are going to do with that information. There is no wrong or right decision. Only the right decision for you. Some women will choose screening and surveillance, some risk reducing surgery, some risk reducing medication and some will choose to do nothing.

Research Your Family Health History
Researching your family health history is the starting point. You need to find out who has had breast and ovarian cancer in your family. On the Pink Hope website under Inform there is a section on Risk Factors and Family Health Risk with lots of useful information and links to external sites. Just remember that discussing your family health with other members of your family can bring up all sorts of emotions and memories. My Dad, even though my Mum passed away 17 years ago, still gets upset when we talk for too long about her cancer and illness.
If your family history looks significant go to your GP and ask for a referral to a Family Cancer Clinic where you can see a Genetic Counsellor who will help you assess your risk.

Research Your Options
If you determine that you are high risk you now need to research your options. The Genetic Counsellor at the Family Cancer Clinic can help you including explaining genetic testing and providing referrals to specialists and for screening. Once again have a look at the Pink Hope website under Inform for information on screening, risk reducing medication and surgical options.

Implement Your Plan
Make a decision about how you are going to manage your risk. The plan you come up with is your plan for you. Women have different plans and there is no wrong or right plan only the right plan and decision for you. Some women commit to screening while others will go straight for surgery.

So, I am writing to you asking you to have the difficult conversations, take the information, make the tough decisions and make your health a priority. Do it now. Do it for yourself. Do it for the ones that love you.

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