Knowing your family’s past medical history can benefit your future

Family Health
May 24, 2022

St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care Physician Dr. Andrew Carney discusses common cancers, chronic conditions that can be genetically linked

There are certainly some things we should leave in the past. Knowing your family’s medical history isn’t one. In fact, learning about previous conditions and cancers your parents, siblings and grandparents had can benefit your future.

“Family medical history is important for a few reasons. It can help determine your necessity for earlier testing, especially cancer screening such as colonoscopies for colorectal cancer or mammograms or prostate screening,” says Dr. Andrew Carney, family medicine physician with St. Joseph’s/Candler Primary Care in Hinesville.

“The other component is chronic conditions. There is a high genetic component to high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and if you know you had family members with these conditions then your risk of developing them is much higher.”

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Dr. Carney says you don’t have to be an investigative reporter or ruin Thanksgiving dinner talking about diseases and death. Nor do you have to know your third cousin on your mom’s side of the family’s medical history.

Dr. Andrew Carney, Hinesville doctor

But he does encourage all his patients to at least talk to their parents and siblings about any cancers and chronic conditions, including heart attack and stroke, they experienced. If you know your parents had a condition then it also can be beneficial to know if their parents had the same condition. That will show the genetic link, Dr. Carney says.

Additionally, it’s important to know at what age your family members were diagnosed with the disease. For example, if your dad had colon cancer at 43, then you would begin screening 10 years prior. The general population with no history of colon cancer typically doesn’t start screening until 45 to 50.

Or, if you know heart disease runs in your family, you should definitely think twice about smoking and exercise regularly and watch your diet, especially saturated fats, Dr. Carney advises.

Once you have a good idea of your family medical history be sure to talk to your doctor about it and be honest about all you find out.

“Too much information is never an issue,” Dr. Carney says. “It’s always important to be honest because there are a lot of conditions that we can help diagnose and treat earlier which leads to significantly improved outcomes in many of these conditions.”

At the same time, we don’t want this information to scare you. Not everything is genetic, Dr. Carney says. A lot of cancers are related to lifestyle choices, such as smoking, and certain chronic conditions can be brought on due to poor diet and lack of exercise.

“But it’s just good to know for precaution and when to order tests and blood work at an earlier age if needed,” Dr. Carney says. “Knowing your parents, knowing your siblings is important, and if they are diagnosed with something, knowing your grandparents is good to know too.”


Dr. Carney now sees patients at our new Hinesville location, 229 General Screven Way, Suite H1A. To schedule an appointment or find a primary care doctor near you, visit our website.


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