Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Genealogy and Medical History--Happy Cancerversary to Me!

Three years ago today, I was diagnosed with cancer.  And I only found out at that point because of genealogy.  (Details about how that happened are here.)  But in retrospect, I could have identified that something was up in my family by looking at death and other records I'd been amassing for years.  (And it looks like the family knew something was up years ago, even before genetics' tie to cancer was discovered; a 1955 relative's obituary requested that donations be made to the family's cancer fund.)

When you collect those names and dates to populate your family tree, you're also collecting your family's medical history.  Look at causes of deaths on death certificates and mentions of places for donations to be given in obituaries.  Is there a pattern down one line of your family?
Medical Genealogy (no, this isn't my family)
It's not just cancer.  Heart disease can run in families.  So can strokes and aneurysms.  Look at your family history.  Talk to your doctor.  Visit a genetic counselor.  You could save your life and give important information to other family members.

But with respect to cancer, 1/40 Ashkenazic Jews and a similar number of Sephardic Jews have a BRCA mutation, as do 1/400 of the general population; these mutations can come through either your maternal or paternal side.  There are other familial cancer syndromes as well.  (A recent study shows the importance of testing for at least the 3 Ashkenazic BRCA founder mutations regardless of family history; details here.)

There are people who say that they don't want to know.  Your genes are part of you (in fact, they make you you)--whether you know it or not.  So why not have that knowledge to be able to act on it to be able to either prevent diseases or catch them earlier than you would have otherwise?  Or on the positive side, you could discover that your family's predisposition to a particular disease wasn't passed down to you.  I think my story shows that knowledge truly is power.

So if you want to give me a cancerversary present (and you know you do), look at your family medical history and act on it.

Note:  I'm on Twitter.  Follow me (@larasgenealogy).

Want to get future blog posts emailed to you automatically?
Enter your email address:


  1. What an amaxing story. So pleased you took that initial test.

  2. Carol Kostakos PetranekNovember 8, 2016 at 11:22 PM

    Blessings to you for continued good health. This is an important post, Lara. Thank you.

    1. Thanks. It's something that so important to be aware of!

  3. This is a good point - thank you for sharing your story

  4. Amazing story! I am so glad you are obsessed with genealogy :D