When it comes to preventing hereditary cancers and passing on genetic diseases, the best secret weapon you can have is to know your family health history. For diseases that tend to reoccur in families, such as certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and psychiatric illness, understanding the likelihoods and implications of a certain disease can be as simple as a conversation. However, for other diseases and conditions, such as rare genetic diseases – understanding one’s family health history can pose quite a challenge.
While taking preventative measures towards known familial illnesses is extremely important towards ensuring healthier future generations, there are additional steps one can take towards creating a healthy family by preventing unknown familial disease. Some diseases run in a family’s DNA for generations without directly affecting any member. These are known as recessive genetic diseases. Many recessive diseases are extremely rare, affecting anywhere between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 200,000 people. The reason why these diseases are able to go unnoticed in families for generations is because they require both parents to carry the gene. Fortunately with new techniques in DNA analysis and carrier screening, such as CooperGenomics’ CarrierMap test, there are ways to test both parents prior to conception. Knowing which genetic diseases lie in your DNA is the first step you can take towards having healthy children.
Throughout this month, many different organizations and agencies have begun the dialogue for you. The U.S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day and is offering a variety of tools to help you complete your family health history, including a web-based program and downloadable software. The CDC is offering tips, a podcast, and more. The March of Dimes website is offering a questionnaire for couples looking to conceive. In addition, The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services has a video, informational brochure, and additional links to help you. The Center for Jewish Genetics also has a number of resources available for those whom are interested.
With the holiday season approaching, take the time to talk to your family and learn more about your family health history. For those looking to conceive, take the time to talk to your doctor about carrier screening and what is right for you and your family.