Making a Medical Family Tree


Most cases of cancer aren't inherited. Only 15% of cancer patients carry an inherited gene that contributed to the development of their cancer. To best assess an individual's risk for an inherited cancer it is important to have an accurate family history.

After completing this web site you will have a family tree and other information you can print to take to a health care provider. Only a licensed health care provider, physician, nurse, genetic counselor or other licensed health care professional can accurately interpret the information you have provided and printed from this web site.

The information contained in this web site is provided as a public service by the Munroe-Meyer Institute for Genetics and Rehabilitation and the Eppley Cancer Center of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Please read the disclaimer for more information.

Before you start answering questions, it may be helpful to gather information about your family history. A family history going back at least three (3) generations will provide a good record of cancer cases in your family. This program only looks at three (3) generations. If you are aware of other family members with cancer you may wish to draw them in on the copy of your family tree, you can print, after answering the questions on this web site.

It is important to record relatives on both sides of your family. You may be concerned about your mother's history of breast cancer, since hereditary cancer is due to a gene that can come from either parent. You should record the cancers on your father's side as well. It is also important to record family members without cancer. You may have two brothers with colon cancer, but if no one else in your family of, for example, 25 aunts and uncles and 15 brothers and sisters has cancer, your risk for hereditary cancer may be smaller.

This program can only record full brothers and sisters. No multiple family relationships (for example marriage between cousins) can be diagramed either. You may want to write in these details, after you print your family tree, and ask your health care professional if this has any significance for you.

When recording your family history please be sure to include the following:

Type of cancer or tumor
  Record only the primary tumor site. Cancer that is metastatic or has spread to other organs should not be recorded. It may be necessary to obtain medical records or death certificates of family members to determine the type of cancer a relative had.

Age at diagnosis
  How old the individual was when first diagnosed with their cancer is important to know. Early age of onset is more likely to be an inherited predisposition.

Bilaterality vs. unilaterality
  In paired organs such as breasts, ovaries, kidneys, and eyes cancer can occur on one side (unilateral) or on both sides (bilateral). Bilateral cancer is more often associated with inherited cancer.

Age or age at death if deceased
  Most cancers occur later in life. You may record a family member as having no cancer, but they may not be old enough for cancer, typically to appear, even in hereditary cancer families, or they may have died of something else before they might have developed cancer.

Degree of relationship
  It is important to consider how closely you are related to a family member with cancer. In general, a sister with cancer is more likely to increase your cancer risk than a distant cousin with cancer.

Benign (non-cancer) tumors and features
  Some precancerous tumors or physical characteristics may increase your risk for cancer or suggest that a hereditary cancer syndrome is running in the family. Multiple colon polyps, for example, are not cancers, but are a common feature found in families with an inherited colon cancer syndrome known as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis.

Finally, remember that families change over time. New babies are born and, unfortunately, additional family members may be diagnosed with cancer. It may be helpful to update and re-assess your family history every year or two. The field of Cancer Genetics is also changing rapidly. You may wish to review your family history periodically with your physician and/or genetic counselor.

Personal History

First Name:
   Gender: male    female
What is your ancestry?
Please select all that apply.
   European American

   Hispanic American

   African American

   Asian American

   Native American


Have you been diagnosed with cancer?

    Yes    No

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