Family history of cancer: is it an accurate indicator of cancer risk in the immigrant population?

Cancer. 2008 Jan 15;112(2):399-406. doi: 10.1002/cncr.23173.


Background: Patients' self-reports of family history of cancer influence physician cancer screening recommendations. Little is known about rates of reporting a family history of cancer in the immigrant population.

Methods: The study used a nationally representative probability sample of adults, 18 years of age and older, living in the United States (N=5010) who had responded to the 2005 Health Information Trends Survey (HINTS). Likelihood of reporting a family history of cancer was examined as a function of nativity status (foreign-born vs US-born) and control variables.

Results: Immigrants were approximately one-third as likely as nonimmigrants to report a family history of cancer (odds ratio [OR], 0.35; 95% confidence index [95% CI], 0.25-0.48) after controlling for sociodemographic and cancer knowledge variables.

Conclusions: When healthcare providers are assessing cancer risk and making screening recommendations, they should take into account that among foreign-born patients, and especially nonwhite foreign-born patients, self-reported family history of cancer (FHC) may misrepresent their cancer risk. Failure to account for low rates of reporting FHC among immigrants could inadvertently contribute to existing disparities in cancer screening and use of genetic testing by immigrants and ethnic minorities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acculturation
  • Adult
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Risk