Population-based study of the prevalence of family history of cancer: implications for cancer screening and prevention

Genet Med. 2006 Sep;8(9):571-5. doi: 10.1097/01.gim.0000237867.34011.12.


Purpose: Family history assessment is gaining importance as a potential public health tool to help determine susceptibility to common cancers. Population-based data on the prevalence of having a family history of common cancers are scant.

Methods: We queried survey questions from the National Health Interview Survey, an annual nationwide survey of approximately 36,000 households in the United States, to determine the prevalence of persons reporting one or more first-degree relatives with breast, colorectal, lung, prostate, or ovarian cancer.

Results: Breast cancer was the most common condition noted for family members (7.74% of respondents), followed by lung cancer (7.10%), colorectal cancer (4.96%), prostate cancer (4.68%), and ovarian cancer (1.79%). A family history of cancer was more commonly reported by older persons, whites, women, and high-income groups.

Conclusion: A substantial proportion of persons in the United States report having a close family member with cancer, and thus may be eligible for earlier or more aggressive cancer screening services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / genetics
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / genetics
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology