Questions about your family history risk

20 Aug 2021

These questions let you explore patterns in your family cancer history. The more cancer patterns that are present, the more likely it is that there may be an inherited gene fault in the family causing a higher than usual chance of cancer. 

It’s important to know that not everyone with a significant family cancer history carries a gene fault, which causes an increased chance of cancer, and that some people who inherit a gene fault never go on to develop cancer. Understanding your personal risk of hereditary cancer can empower you to take action and share important health information with your loved ones. 

If your family history looks significant you can discuss your risk with your GP. Ask for a referral to a Family Cancer Clinic if you believe you are at high risk and want further assessment and advice. And always remember you can find more information and support at Pink Hope, where you can also submit questions to our Online Genetic Counsellor

What to ask:

So you’re ready to Start the Conversation but don’t know what to ask? There are three simple questions that can help you determine whether there is a risk of hereditary cancer in your family:

  1. Have any of your blood relatives had cancer? The more close blood relatives who have developed cancer, especially at a younger age, the more likely the cancer is due to an inherited gene fault.
  2. What types of cancer were they? Breast, ovarian or bowel cancers are more likely to be due to an inherited gene fault. 
  3. How old were they when they developed cancer? The younger people were when they developed these cancers, the more likely it is to be due to hereditary factors. Before 40 is considered ‘early’ and places a person/family at high risk for the development of breast and ovarian cancer.

How to ask:

  • Talk to a relative or relatives you feel comfortable with and ask with sensitivity.
  • Respect their wishes if they don’t wish to discuss this or if they feel uncomfortable discussing health matters. You may still be able to gather partial information from other family members.
  • Write the information down. You can add to your list as new information is found. You can use our Family Health Tree if you wish.
  • Don’t forget to ask the men in your family, as they can be carriers of the gene fault (mutation) as well and may be at risk for breast and prostate cancer.
  • Don’t worry if your list is incomplete. It may not be possible to contact or learn about some family members or find out information about their cancer history. It’s still worth recording everything you can as this information will be of benefit to future generations in your family.