Don’t overlook family history in seeking prevention of disease

To the editor:

Family history is getting to be more important in disease prevention as our population ages. During the diagnosis phase of my fight with cancer, doctors kept asking if I had a family history of prostate cancer. I just did not know; both my grandfathers died before I was born and I could not find information on cause of death in men in my family beyond terms like consumption or heart failure (everyone who dies for any reasons heart will fail). The death certificates, those I could find on Ancestery.com, were of little help.

The obituaries were likewise of little help. You or I will have no input into the death certificate, but the obituaries are a different story. The living typically write the obituary, and a word or two as to the cause of death just may help generations yet born to be aware of a family history of serious disease.

We know cancers like prostate, breast, uterine, colon, ovarian, thyroid, kidney and melanoma have a high likelihood of family links. Please consider when writing obituaries adding a sentence addressing cause of death. Do not just limit this action to cancer and heart disease; other causes of death may have a family link even if not known today.

Heart disease and other fatal diseases also have a genetic link; forewarned is forearmed. If a woman has a strong family history of breast cancer, she needs to be very careful to ensure mammograms and other tests are done regularly. Many if not most diseases are curable if discovered early, the earlier the better. A few words in our obituaries on known cause of death just may save the lives of family members generations from now.

Had I known of a history of prostate cancer, I would have been sure to get a PSA test and discovered the cancer when it was relatively easy to cure. Please note family history is one factor, not the only factor in disease; some with no history of most diseases can get sick. Family history can increase the likelihood in some diseases up to twice, but it doesn’t guarantee you will or will not become ill.

Please consider adding a sentence on the exact cause of death to loved ones’ obituaries, it just may help generations yet to be born.

Robert M. Traxler, Dorr


  • Bob, I am so happy that you have brought up the subject of family history in relation to family health history. You are so correct that a single sentence in an obituary could save someones life in later generations. The very question of “what happened” is usually the first thing that comes to mind when someone dies. People sometimes assume that a listing of a particular organization as a recipient for donations is the cause. This could lead later generations down the wrong path. There is no shame in suicide! It often is an indicator of depression or terminal illness. The term “died unexpectedly” is of no use to anyone trying to learn their family medical history.
    Again, you have done another service to society with this letter and your articles on prostate cancer. Wishing you well!

    • Pat,
      Once again thank you kindly. A very good comment, we always need to protect those who come after us in life.

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