Climbing the Family Tree Could Save Your Life

Medical conditions which run in families include heart disease, diabetes, asthma and some types of cancer.

When combing through the family medical history, Sturm says, look for a high number of relatives with the same or a related disease. The closer the relative, she says, the higher risk you may face for contracting the same disease or condition. One of the biggest red flags, she says, is an early age of onset.

“A person who had a heart attack under the age of 50; a person who was diagnosed with any type of cancer under the age of 50 – that is a major clue to us that there could be some sort of genetic predisposition that made that person get that disease at a very early age.”

Genetic testing can begin with any family member who has been diagnosed with a specific ailment, Sturm says. A blood test will determine if there is a genetic change or mutation which may have predisposed them to that disease. Other family members can then be tested for the same genetic change.

More information about risks for cancer and heart disease based on personal and family health history is online at