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On the other hand, Navigenics listed eight men at risk for prostate cancer when their family history predicted a risk no higher than average.
Why the difference? No matter the brand, genomic screening takes a broad look at DNA variations, including some that scientists aren't sure play a big role. Yet it often doesn't include high-profile gene mutations that are linked for specific diseases and can require more specialized testing, Eng explains.
Navigenics didn't return a call for comment.
"Family history remains the best genetic tool we have, but health care providers are not taking advantage" of it, says Dr. Maren Scheuner of the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in Los Angeles, who is leading a pilot project to add family cancer histories to the VA's electronic medical records at two area clinics.
Popularity may be growing. The surgeon general's office counts nearly 30,000 new visitors a month to its "My Family Health Portrait" Web site since summer, about a third of whom return, suggesting they're compiling an electronic family health tree.
Chicago's Rubinstein, who is testing a next-generation tool, found that women's newly created family health histories include much more information than was in their regular medical charts -- even if they did need a nudge about the paternal side.
"It's not uncommon to think, 'I look like one parent, that affects the illness I'm going to get,'" Rubinstein says. "Generally that's not the case."
Because genes seldom are destiny, a family health tree also should reflect shared environmental or lifestyle factors that can further affect an inherited risk, says James O'Leary of the nonprofit Genetic Alliance, which just won government funding to help spread family health histories to community health centers that serve the poor.
"Collecting your family health history isn't just about knowing, it's about making healthy choices," he says.
Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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