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NCI News Note

Five-year updates to patient family histories may lead to improved cancer screening:

  • Posted: July 12, 2011

In order to maintain accurate family histories from their patients, physicians should get a comprehensive family history by age 30, and then update it every five to 10 years because histories change significantly between ages 30 and 50 years.  According to a new study by a multi-institution team of NCI-supported researchers, getting updated histories every five years would maximize the likelihood of detecting cancer at an early, more treatable state.

Maintaining accurate family histories is one of the most effective tools clinicians have to identify individuals at increased risk for cancer and recommending appropriate screening regimens.  While an individual’s family history can change over time, there are currently no guidelines for how often clinicians should ask for updated information.  The study, published July 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), examined how often changes in family cancer history are great enough to warrant earlier or more intense screening for breast, colorectal or prostate cancer.  The researchers used family history data collected over 10 years from over 10,000 participants by the NCI-supported Cancer Genetics Network, a national, population-based cancer registry in the United States.