Family History When You’re Adopted
Last updated: September 2021
Whether you're at a new doctor’s office or filling out paperwork for any kind of medical inquiry, including skin cancer, it’s a little harder for some of us. You can’t just fill in your family history when you’re adopted. So what do you do at the dermatologist or any doctor for that matter, when you're adopted and don't know your family medical history?
A blank page
As someone who was adopted as a baby, and with a closed adoption, I’ve always had to explain why I couldn't detail my family's medical history. I typically either write “adopted” in the medical history area, draw a line through it only to have to explain later, or simply skip it. Then I have to go through the whole process of explaining when I'm inevitably asked by the medical staff.
Technology to the rescue
Technology has helped a lot. With the advancements that have resulted from so many people submitting their DNA to determine their origins, we can now learn a lot through the use of sites that allow genome sequencing. While nothing is entirely certain, with the use of DNA you can get some insight into how you might respond to certain medications or what your susceptibility to disease is.
Possibility isn't the same as inevitability
For example, the use of genome sequencing may show that you may have a higher susceptibility to skin cancer. That doesn’t mean you’ll get skin cancer for sure, but it also doesn't mean you won’t. But knowing that you have a family history of skin cancer might encourage you to practice safe habits and be hyper-vigilant about changes on your skin.
The beauty of genetic testing
Another way to find out more about your own health, including skin cancer, is to have genetic testing done. This is a tool that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. It can rule out certain genetic disorders, or identify chances of passing on a disorder or developing one. This is more advanced than genome sequencing since it is based on your genetics, not those from association studies, like piecing together your family history using websites like 23 & Me and Ancestry.com.
Relying on your own history
Of course, if you only have your own history to rely on, that's helpful too. You should tell your dermatologist if you have ever had skin cancer, or if you are noticing suspicious spots that might indicate further testing is needed.
No matter what, protection is key
As we know, heredity can be an important factor in determining if someone has an elevated risk of developing skin cancer. That said, we can all put our efforts towards preventing skin cancer in the first place by practicing good habits, like wearing and reapplying sunscreen, avoiding the sun, and covering up with UPF and other clothing.
We've come a long way
Sharing your family history when you’re adopted, however limited it may be, isn’t easy. But there is help for those who want to learn more about their history when nothing else is available. Thanks to technology and changes in laws that allow adoptees to access more information about their biological families, we've come a long way.
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