Start talking: The importance of family health history

The National Breast Care Foundation says that in 2021 alone, an estimated 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the U.S. as well as 49,290 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer.

As we move past the seemingly endless hum that has been January, it is time to take 2022 by the tatas and start advocating for your health.

Wondering where to start? Pick up the phone and call your mom.

Our families shape everything in our lives, from what we eat, to how we talk to others, from our humor to our daily habits. They also play an undeniably big part in shaping our health. Yet, these are often not brought up for discussion in many families. 

But our family health history can provide clues to what the future may hold for our own health. So ask yourself, how much do you already know? And how much more can you find out?

It might be awkward or even painful to start the conversation, but talking openly about family health history can help you and your family get on top of your breast health. It may even save your life.


Why talking about breast cancer matters

Your family is unique, and so is your family’s health history. Knowing that history can help you figure out your risk and take action as needed when it comes to breast cancer.

If anyone in your family has had breast cancer, your family could be at higher risk. Research shows that certain gene mutations that pass from generation to generation can have a major impact on our breast cancer risk. We also know that understanding our family health history can help us take better care of our own health.

Looking to the future, tracking family health history may also provide insight into how different health conditions like breast cancer, diabetes, and obesity connect. Understanding these connections may give us a more complete picture of our family’s health challenges.

Tips for starting the conversation from the team at Know Your Girls:


It may not be easy to talk openly about illness in the family, especially if your family has lost someone. Still, it’s crucial for families to share health history so that each of you can be informed and empowered about your own health. Here are some tips to help you get the conversation started.


1. Start close.

Choose a relative you trust and feel close with to help you gather background information and figure out the best way to approach other members of the family. You’ll feel more confident having someone in your family who understands and supports what you’re doing. Plus, once you’ve broken the ice with one person, it’ll be easier to talk to others.

2. Prepare beforehand.

Get informed about the main points you want to discuss.

  • You may want to have a short explanation in mind for why you think making a family health history is important in the first place.
  • If you’re concerned that your family could have a genetic mutation, be ready to explain why you think so. (Not sure? Answering these questions can help.)
  • You’ll need to prepare emotionally as well. It may be painful to talk about health problems in the family, especially if someone in your family has struggled with their health recently. Be ready for whatever emotions come up, including fear, anger and sorrow. 

3. Bring men to the table.

Talking about breast health isn’t just for the women in your family. All members of both sides of your family should be included in the conversation for several reasons:

  • Including as many members as possible from both your mother’s and your father’s families will help you collect more information. Plus, everyone you include can get informed about their own risk too.
  • Speaking of getting informed about risk, men can get breast cancer too. It’s rare in men, but it happens, so it’s important for male family members to know their risk. Men can also benefit from paying attention to their chests and having any changes they notice checked out by a doctor.

4. Let technology help.

The Office of the Surgeon General created an online tool to help families chart their family health history. The tool tracks all kinds of health problems, not just breast cancer, and lets you create a chart to print and share with your family and doctor.

5. Know what’s next.

You don’t have to have all the answers. Just knowing what comes after the health history is complete can create a sense of purpose and control. Whatever the history says, a good next step is to talk to your doctor about what it means for you and your family.


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