Know Your Family Health History

Family health history is one tool that healthcare providers use to assess an individual's risk for certain diseases. Knowing which health conditions affect which family member, and at what age, can help you understand whether you may be at increased risk and, if necessary, take steps to reduce that risk. Family health history can also provide information about the risk for passing on certain conditions to children when you are family planning.

Try to gather health information about your parents, grandparents, siblings, children, aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. The more information you can provide the better. If you can’t collect information about all your relatives, just collect as much as you are able. Even a partial family health history can provide insight.

Remember that family health history is always changing, so it important to update your health history if you have new information. If you learn of a family member with a new diagnosis, be sure to inform your healthcare provider of this information. Changes in family history may alter a previous risk assessment. 

The following online tools and worksheets can help you collect and record key family health information. They also make it easier to share the information with health providers and other members of your family.

General Family Health History Tools

Cancer Family History

While most cases of cancer are sporadic or related to environmental causes, hereditary cancers are related to an inherited gene mutation. For more information about hereditary cancers, visit our hereditary cancer page.

Individuals with concerns about hereditary cancer can meet with a cancer genetics professional for a comprehensive risk assessment. The first step to a cancer risk assessment is obtaining a complete medical and family history. For more information about relevant family history features that may warrant discussion with a cancer genetics specialist, please see our Assess Your Risk page.

The more details you can provide about your cancer family history, the more accurate risk assessment can be made. Important factors to note when collecting family history information about cancer diagnoses include:

  • Specific type of cancer (where in the body did it originate)
    • For some types of cancer, knowing pathology results or if pathology results are available maybe be helpful
  • Age at which cancer was diagnosed
  • Cases of cancer recurrences
  • Relatives who have already had genetic testing, and if these results are available to you

Cancer Family History Tools

The following online resources can help you keep track of your cancer family history. Having this information organized is helpful prior to meeting with a cancer genetics professional.

The following interactive web tool provides a basic risk assessment for breast and ovarian cancer risk based on family history, other medical history, and lifestyle factors.

Please note: the resources on this page are provided as a convenience and the Sarnoff Center bears no responsibility for the content of these external sites.  


Direct-to-Consumer Hereditary Cancer Risk Screening: What Our Community Needs to Know

The Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics cautions regarding the use of direct-to-consumer (DTC) testing to determine one’s personal risk for hereditary cancer. Learn more.


Do You Know What's In Your Genes?

What is the most valuable gift you can give to your family? The gift of good health! 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 . Talk to your relatives for warning signs and assess your risk for hereditary cancers.

Did you know: Ashkenazi Jews are 10 TIMES more likely to have BRCA mutations, which significantly increases lifetime risks for hereditary cancers, so what does this heightened risk mean for you? Click here to learn more .