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What Do Patients Really Know About Their Family Cancer History?

Duncan Smith/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Physicians routinely ask their patients about their family history of cancer, and frequently base screening recommendations and referrals to specialists based on that history.  Family history was reported to be an even better predictor of cancer risk than genomic screening, according to a study presented at the American Society of Genetics meeting in November of last year. 

But the authors of a current study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, would likely disagree.
By surveying over 1,000 Connecticut residents about the cancer history in their families, the authors found that the accuracy of those reports was quite dismal, and depended on the type of cancer. 

The study participants were 61 percent and 60 percent accurate in reporting breast and lung cancer, respectively.  But they got worse for prostate cancer at 32 percent accuracy, and 27 percent for colorectal cancers.

As would be expected, participants were more accurate for first degree than for second-degree relatives, but the authors still concluded that "general population reports on family history for the four major adult cancers were not highly accurate…[and] efforts to improve accuracy are insure appropriate risk assessment and clinical care recommendations."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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