JAMA study shows importance of updating family cancer history in adult patients

SAN ANTONIO (July 12, 2011) – One of the best ways to determine a person’s risk for certain cancers is family health history – and between the ages of 30 and 50, that family history can change significantly.

That in turn affects how often they should be screened for cancer, particularly breast and colon cancers, according to a new study published today in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The bottom line is that it is important for physicians to update patients’ family history over time,” said Gail Tomlinson, M.D., Ph.D., interim director of the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and one of the study’s authors. The authors recommend updating a person’s family history of cancer every five to 10 years between ages 30 and 60.

The study reports on the changes in the family history of cancer when collected over a 10-year period, said Dr. Tomlinson, a member of the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the UT Health Science Center. Beginning in 1999, the researchers followed more than 11,000 individuals for 10 years, assessing changes in their self-reported family history over that time. The study is from the NCI-sponsored Cancer Genetics Network, a registry of high-risk families that Dr. Tomlinson has worked with since its inception in 1999.

Using annual questionnaires, the CGN gathers family history updates and looks for changes that suggest a need for more intensive screening. The study showed that relevant family history changed significantly between the ages of 30 and 50. It revealed a 50 percent increase in women who should get high-risk breast cancer screening. Meanwhile, the number of individuals at high risk for colon cancer tripled.

“The recognition of individuals at high-risk of cancer on the basis of family history not only can save lives,” Dr. Tomlinson said, “but by facilitating early detection, can substantially decrease the extent of cancer therapy needed to achieve a cure.”

The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit www.ctrc.net.

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