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National Family Health History Day

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

Thanksgiving Day is also a day to celebrate National Family Health History Day. This day is to make good use of families being together for the Thanksgiving meal. It is time to ask about family health problems that all family members may not know but especially to talk about colorectal cancer.

Cancer is a group of diseases that all have to do with cells. Cells are the very small units that make up all living things, including the human body. There are billions of cells in each person's body. Cancer happens when cells that are not normal grow and spread very fast. Normal body cells grow and divide and know to stop growing. Over time, they also die. Unlike these normal cells, cancer cells just continue to grow and divide out of control and do not die when they are supposed to.

The colon (the large intestine) is part of the digestive system of the body. This system deals with the food and drink that you take into your body. The large intestine pushes solid waste (poop) into the rectum. The rectum stores poop until it leaves the body when you go to the bathroom.

Colorectal cancer means that cells that are not normal are growing in the colon or rectum. These cells grow together and form polyps. Polyps are tissue growths that most often look like small, flat bumps or like tiny mushrooms. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer. Colorectal cancer happens most often in people older than 50.

In the 1960s the colonoscope was invented to make it easier to see signs of cancer in the body. In 2004 the Surgeon General (the Nation's Doctor who gives Americans the best information on how to improve their health) declared Thanksgiving as Family Health History Day to remind families to talk about illnesses and diseases known to run in families. In 2017 two groups of people got together to look for more ways to find a cure for colorectal cancer.

Having a family health history of a disease does not mean that you will get it. Knowing your family health history can help you if you act on seeing a doctor. Collecting your family health history is an important first step. It might not be easy. Your family members might not be used to talking about their diseases or might not want to talk.

A fun activity to do is to make a large family tree on a poster or make a family binder. You could ask the whole family to help and to write down questions they might have about the family’s health.

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