Clinical utility of family history for cancer screening and referral in primary care: A report from the Family Healthware Impact Trial

Wendy S. Rubinstein*, Louise S. Acheson, Suzanne M. O'Neill, MacK T. Ruffin, Catharine Wang, Jennifer L. Beaumont, Nan Rothrock

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Purpose: To assess the effectiveness of computerized familial risk assessment and tailored messages for identifying individuals for targeted cancer prevention strategies and motivating behavior change. Methods: We conducted a randomized clinical trial in primary care patients aged 35-65 years using Family Healthware, a self-administered, internet-based tool that collects family history for six common diseases including breast cancer, colon cancer, and ovarian cancer, stratifies risk into three tiers, and provides tailored prevention messages. Cancer screening adherence and consultation were measured at baseline and 6-month follow-up. Results: Of 3283 participants, 34% were at strong or moderate risk of at least one of the cancers. Family Healthware identified additional participants for whom earlier screening (colon cancer, 4.4%; breast cancer, women ages: 35-39 years, 9%) or genetic assessment (colon cancer, 2.5%; breast cancer, 10%; and ovarian cancer, 4%) may be indicated. Fewer than half were already adherent with risk-based screening. Screening adherence improved for all risk categories with no difference between intervention and control groups. Consultation with specialists did not differ between groups. Conclusion: Family Healthware identified patients for intensified cancer prevention. Engagement of clinicians and patients, integration with clinical decision support, and inclusion of nonfamilial risk factors may be necessary to achieve the full potential of computerized risk assessment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)956-965
Number of pages10
JournalGenetics in Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • attitudes
  • early detection of cancer
  • family history
  • health knowledge
  • neoplasms
  • practice
  • risk assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)


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