People who have family members with certain diseases are more likely to develop those diseases themselves. Indeed, many common disorders, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, have genetic, environmental, behavioral and lifestyle causes that are shared between family members and together contribute to an individual’s risk for developing disease.
A family health history is a written or graphic record of these factors and includes information on diseases and health conditions of biological relatives, the age at diagnosis, and the age and cause of death of deceased family members. Family health history information collected from patients has long been used by healthcare providers in the U.S. as a risk assessment tool, and has gained renewed attention with efforts in personalized medicine. Americans recognize the importance of family history to health. A recent survey found an overwhelming 96% of respondents believe their family history is important for their own health; nevertheless, only 30% have actively collected health information from their relatives to develop a family history .
Despite the widespread and longstanding use of family health history, important questions regarding the effectiveness of family history information for disease prediction and improvement of health outcomes remain.