What is more important for the personal health of an individual –a family history taken by a physician or genetic testing?
According to an Associated Press article published in the Washington Post, while genetic testing has important uses, people should be aware that a thorough family history taken by a physician is what Cleveland Clinic geneticist, Charis Eng, MD, calls “the best kept secret in health care.” The article, Family Health History: Best Kept Secret in Health Care, by AP health reporter Lauran Needgaard, points out that knowing and understanding a family’s medical history contributes mightily to the health of family members. In fact, medical histories are still the gold standard, even thought all sorts of amazing scans and genetic tests are available.
At the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics in Washington, DC, four genetics
Page from the Surgeon General's Family Medical History Site Printable Version
researchers, including Dr. Eng, described how family histories help to assess an individual’s risk for disease. The four conference presenters also participated in a panel press briefing (links to conference abstracts are also available at this link), describing their experiences with genetics testing and medical histories.
Dr. Eng explained how she and her colleagues conducted research with 22 cancer patients using their 22 spouses as a control group. Researchers compared the information in 44 medical histories with results of personal genome scanning assessing the cancer risk for three common cancers — that of colon, breast and prostate. Her team found a low measurement of agreement between the medical histories and the genetic tests. Both identified risks but seldom agreed on what those risks were.