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Questions to Ask Your Family About Your Health History: A How-to Guide 

Knowing your family health history can help you and your doctor figure out if you’re at higher risk of breast cancer. If you find out you’re at higher risk as a woman, there are things you can do. You may need to be screened earlier or more often than other women, or you may consider taking a risk-lowering drug. 

A woman with a parent, sibling or child with breast cancer has about twice the risk of getting breast cancer as a woman without this family history. If she has more than one relative with a history of breast cancer, then her risk is even higher.!  

People with a family history of breast, ovarian or prostate cancer also have an increased risk of breast cancer. This increased risk is likely due to inherited gene mutations, but it may also be due to shared lifestyle factors, such as exercise habits or other family traits. 

The risk is not just on your mom’s side – don’t forget about your dad. The health history of both sides of your family is valuable, as inherited gene mutations can be passed down from either parent.  

Talking about your family’s health history is often easier said than done. A person’s health is a sensitive subject, and some family members may be very private and quiet about their health. No one should be forced to share, but you can encourage your family member by letting them know how this information can help you make informed decisions about your care and that their health history may also impact you. 

How do you even mention a topic like this? Is there ever a good time? While this may be a difficult conversation, it’s important – not only for your health, but for the health of others in your family.  

Here are some tips to help get you started:  

  1. List the names of family members you’d like to speak with – your parents, siblings, grandparents and aunts or uncles. You may not need to speak to every person in your family to get an accurate picture of your family health history, as some members of your family may be able to provide you with information for other family members. 
  1. Write down a list of questions to ask, not only about their health, but the health of others in the family you may not be able to talk to. Even if you have limited information, any information is helpful.    
  1. Think about how you want to speak with them – do you want to call them or would you rather have this conversation in person? Is it easier to talk one-on-one or when you’re all together? Also consider how they would want to speak with you about this topic and consider privacy, being comfortable in the environment, if they have anything else going on, etc. Everyone is different, so do what’s best for you and your family. 
  1. Plan what you’re going to say. You’ll want to tell them why you’re asking for this information and why it’s important to you. Let them know that everyone is at risk of breast cancer, but some people are at higher risk than others. Talk to them about how understanding our risk can empower us to make important health decisions.  
  1. If feeling nervous, practice what you’re going to say so you’re comfortable when speaking with your loved ones. 
  1. Plan how you’ll record what you learn. We make it easy with the My Family Health History Tool on This tool allows you to gather, record and share your family health history. Once you answer a few questions about your family (everything is kept private), the tool organizes the information in a way you can download or print to share with your family members and doctor.  
  1. Share what you’re going to do with this information. Let your family know you plan to talk with your doctor about what you’ve learned (without mentioning names) to better understand your risk of breast cancer and to discuss your health care. Let them know you’ll share what you learned from your doctor with them. 

If you learn you have a family history of breast cancer or any other types of cancer, your doctor can help you understand how that impacts your risk. Talking with your doctor about your family health history can help them advise you regarding recommended screening practices and healthy lifestyle choices you can make, or your doctor might recommend you speak with a genetic counselor about genetic counseling and testing.  

So, as awkward as it may be, it’s important that you talk with your family about their health history, as that can help you learn about your risk of breast cancer and empower you to make important breast care decisions.