Chelsy Jungbluth is a genetic counselor at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Ariz.
Question: My mother has breast cancer. Does that guarantee that I will have breast cancer, too?
Answer: We have known for a long time that common diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, asthma and diabetes, as well as rare diseases such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia, can run in families. However, that does not "guarantee" that you are going to have the same medical conditions as your mother, father, brother or sister.
As our understanding advances, we are better able to explain how your lifestyle choices and your genetic information can impact your health.
Scientists have identified many of the genes responsible for rare diseases and are working hard to understand the role of genes in common and complex diseases, like heart disease. With our growing knowledge and understanding, the use of genetic tests has become more common.
That does not mean you should go out and get a genetic test tomorrow. Start by pulling together a health history of your family. Start with your immediate family. Ask your relatives their ages, medical conditions they have been diagnosed with and at what age, and get a list of past surgeries. From there, you can move into more detailed information on their health history and soon create a family health tree.
Reviewed January 2011