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Thanksgiving is National Family Health History Day
Rick Mitchell, MD, PhD, a BWH cardiovascular pathologist, beat colon cancer earlier this year, but there’s a 50 percent chance he passed the cancer-causing gene to his children, Matt, 19, and Becky, 17.That’s why Mitchell is arming his family with the knowledge to prevent the disease and maintain good health through the Brigham and Women’s Family History Project.
“I was very lucky to be diagnosed early because the cancer could be removed before it spread,” Mitchell said. “But I don’t want my kids to rely on luck. I want them to get early screening and preventive care that will give them their best chance to fight any cancer before it can bring them down.”
As a doctor, father and cancer survivor, Mitchell understands that taking 20 minutes to record a family medical tree is an effective way to protect one’s health and the health of one’s family. The Brigham and Women’s Family History Project empowers employees to do so with the U.S. Surgeon General’s “My Family Health Portrait,” a Web-based tool for organizing the medical tree.
Participants are the only ones who see the information they record, but Family History Project leaders Cynthia Morton, PhD, and Michael Murray, MD, encourage participants to share it with their families and primary care practitioners. By informing his relatives of his cancer diagnosis, Mitchell inspired his three sisters to be screened for the disease well ahead of the standard age of 50. His children know they also need to be screened at an early age.
Many cancers, including breast, ovarian, and colon cancers, are most treatable when caught early. It is also important to identify as early as possible individuals at risk for heart disease and diabetes so they can be screened. “It's important for your provider to look for these diseases before they develop if they're part of your family history,” said Karen Holbrook, MS, CGC, genetic counselor and Brigham and Women’s Family History Project manager. “That gives us the best chance to treat and manage these diseases and others.”
Mitchell said, “Our medical history is written in our genes, and our family history holds valuable information that can save a life. We can all live longer, better lives and help our kids do the same simply by talking about family history.”
Take the opportunity to do so on Thanksgiving Day, declared by the U.S. Surgeon General as National Family Health History Day.
For more information on the Brigham and Women’s Family History Project, visit www.bwhpikenotes.org or access the tool directly: http://familyhistory.hhs.gov/