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Kelly McCormick
November 23, 2022

This article was updated on November 20th, 2022 to reflect the latest information


History can provide insight into risk for colon cancer and other diseases.


Family history is often considered when determining risk factors for patients, especially in the case of colorectal cancer. The subject can be difficult to discuss for those who have personal experience via a family member or friend. However, with a rise in early-onset colorectal cancer, it is now more important than ever for patients to understand their family medical history, and the insight that can be gleamed from looking to the past.

What’s the value?  

Family history can be a critical factor in identifying genetic risk factors that can increase a patient’s odds of a diagnosis for a disease, such as Lynch Disease. Along with genetic factors, family history can also provide insight into trends relating to the potential for a patient to develop colorectal cancer.

Furthermore, numerous colon cancer related organizations, such as Colorectal Cancer Alliance, Fight Colorectal Cancer, and the Colon Cancer Coalition recommend looking into and also documenting family history in order to identify risk factors.  These groups have resources, such as family trees and other charts to help organize and understand family medical histories.

What to look for 

Many groups and organizations share similar guidelines in potential red flags within a family’s history. Fight Colorectal Cancer describes looking into “first-degree” and “second-degree” relatives.

First-degree relatives include parents, children, and siblings. Second-degree relatives include aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews, and also grandchildren. Patients with first-degree relatives who have fought the disease stand a higher risk than those with second-degree relatives.

“If any of your biological relatives have been diagnosed with cancer before age 50, your risk may be doubled,” the website adds.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, patients under the age of 50 now make up nearly 10-percent of all new colorectal cancer diagnosis’ each year. As a result, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated its screening guidelines in 2021, lowering the minimum age to begin receiving colonoscopies from 50 to 45.

Patients who are now eligible due to the lowered screening age should gather family history prior to speaking with their doctor in order to provide a detailed insight into potential risk factors.

How do you document your history?  

The American Medical Association provides a downloadable PDF to help explain how to create a proper family history chart. As patients create this document, they can easily document who in their family may suffer, or have suffered, from specific diseases.

Once this chart is complete, patients can easily discuss risk factors with their physicians, and identify potential increased risk factors. Future generations may also use these records. Again, should a child be asked at a future visit about potential colon cancer risks, they would then have a detailed history of which to review.

Additional Resources  

For more information on gathering family history, or understanding how family history can increase your risk for colon cancer or other diseases, visit the links below and the websites of the organizations listed above:

Geisinger Health System: Family History Splainer 

National Human Genome Research Institute 

Disease InfoSearch 

Medline Plus 

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