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Why Family History Matters

Posted Apr 29 2009 10:47pm

I am often asked by my patients why I take such an extensive family history. They also often ask, why their other doctors have never done so before.

The short reason, you very rarely find anything you that aren't looking for. True there are incedentalomas of CT scans that end up saving someone's life. But those are the rare cases.......True, there are some doctors who are so busy that they order a zillion tests in a shotgun approach because they are too busy to think through a case, let alone take a 10 minute family history.

But I am not one of those doctors.

Just yesterday patient comes in with increased thirst and increased urination......this case was classical diabetes. But I also decided to take a family history.......

It turns out he has early onset cancers in the family. A stomach and an ovarian. 2 very rare cancers which most doctors would not have caught. Why? No one teaches you about Lynch Syndrome in Internal Medicine residency. More importantly, they wouldn't have had the time to work out the pedigree if they were double booked seeing 20 patients a day.

So in addition to the diabetes work up this patient is getting, he is also getting a cancer genetics evaluation by myself. Something I am very good at. Something I teach my residents about everyday. Why? Because I know they won't get this stuff anywhere else.

So when I see a blog post from a DTC company that saysFamily History isn't enough, I laugh. Compared to the testing that this company is offering, Family History IS everything and more than a 2500 USD test could offer.

"Navigenics assesses genetic risk formany common health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease,breast cancer,type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer andheart attack."

As you can see from the links...genetic testing here just isn't that useful.....Which is why it is a shady practice to misrepresent it as USEFUL.

Family History as well as a good physical exam with our current risk algorithms does a far better job than a non-clinically validated SNP scan that costs 2500 USD does......

The clinical ramifications of this man's family history make SNP scan testing foolish, but Tumor sample and Germline testing the STANDARD OF CARE. No SNP scan would lead me to do either of those tests.........But the right family history? You bet your bippee.....

In a world where Comparative Effectiveness Research is taking place, we will soon see the SNP scan placed in a lower level of test and probably not be in the clinicians armamentarium.......unless of course the results (good, bad or useless) can get patients to do something that a good relationship with a doctor has not been able to do......i.e. quit smoking, lose weight, etc.

The Sherpa Says: I amsick and tired of journalists hired as "Health Writers"hyping afalse productto improve sales.....This is a crappy thing to do to vulnerable people reading your swill....

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