What is the most valuable gift you can leave to your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren? The gift of good health. November is Family Health History Month – a time for passing important medical information about you and other family members on to the next generation.

You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to get the conversation started!  There are many health conditions that run in families. Knowing your family health history can alert you to the potential risk for a variety of genetic disorders.  Be sure to take a minute to check with your relatives for warning signs and assess your risk for hereditary cancers during this process. Click here for the Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics’ cancer risk assessment, and feel free to contact the Center with any questions or concerns.

Gathering Family Health History during the Holidays: Use These Tips for Starting the Conversation

  • The best way to learn about your family health history is to ask questions! Use holidays and other family occasions to gather information from your relatives.
  • It helps to prepare questions ahead of time. Ask them the following: Where were you born? Did you experience any health problems as a child? What habits have you had that could have affected your health (e.g. sun exposure, smoking, physical activity)? Have you experienced any health problems as an adult?
  • Try to record as much information as possible: sex, age, ethnicity, race, chronic or long-term conditions, age of diagnosis, treatments received, and age and cause of death. If possible, include lifestyle information such as diet, occupation, and use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Keep information from both sides of your family: parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.  An online tool can help your organize this information and see patterns across generations.

This year, give thanks for the blessing of good health and help yourself by sharing your family health history with your healthcare provider. Be sure that this information is added to your medical records so it can be used to guide shared decisions about care. Help others by participating in research to discover new treatments and advance scientific progress for future generations.