Family First: Family History Better at Predicting Disease Risk Than Screening

Family health history "gold standard" at assessing disease risk, experts say.

ByABC News
November 4, 2010, 11:42 AM

Nov. 5, 2010— -- The widely held belief that you can always rely on family may be especially true when it comes to your risk for certain diseases, new research shows.

Researchers led by Dr. Charis Eng, chairman and founding director of the Genomic Medicine Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, found that a thorough family history better predicted the risk for developing certain cancers than genomic screening did.

"Evaluation of family health history still remains to be the gold standard in personal disease risk assessment," Eng said in a news release.

Genomic screening isn't the same as genetic testing. Genomic screening involves evaluating portions of a person's genetic makeup to determine whether there are genetic variants that put people at higher risk to develop particular diseases or traits. In genetic testing, people are screened for the presence of an entire gene known to cause a disease.

Eng and her colleagues assessed 44 people's risk for developing breast cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer by obtaining a complete family health history and also by using a direct-to-consumer personal genomic screening tool. They presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics.

A comparison between the two methods showed that they did not often place people in the same risk category for the three kinds of cancer. Researchers also found that personal genomic screening did not identify nine people who were found to be at high risk for colon cancer because of a previous family history.

"Study after study has shown that a well-taken family history can be one of the most powerful predictive factors for preventative health and health maintenance," said Dr. Kandamurugu Manickam, a geneticist at Ohio State University's Center for Personalized Health Care in Columbus.