When a healthcare provider looks at a family's medical history to determine whether the cancer in a family is hereditary, he or she starts by asking the following questions:
- How many people in the family have cancer?
- What type(s) of cancer are present in the family?
- Is there someone who has more than one type of cancer?
- What are the ages of onset of cancer?
- What is the gender of the individuals with cancer?
- Are the cancers unilateral (occurring on one side of the body) or bilateral (for example, both kidneys)?
- What type of environmental exposures or lifestyle factors do the people with cancer have that might have influenced their risk of cancer (for example, are they smokers)?
- How are the people with cancer related to one another?
- Is there a vertical pattern of inheritance observed (parents with cancer who have children with cancer)?
- What is the ancestry and ethnicity of the family?
Some cancer risks are modifiable and some are not. Age, genetics, family history and gender cannot modify. Factors that can be controlled are tobacco, weight, diet and exercise.