Online calculator assesses your risks for heart disease and cancer

Three generation family sitting with tablet and laughing together

Twenty-three years ago, within the halls of the original Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute at Ohio State, a touchscreen kiosk offered patients and their families a deeper look at their potential hereditary cancer risks. It was a first-of-its-kind tool back then, and today, a cutting-edge online upgrade called the Family Health Risk Calculator continues to help individuals and families understand more about the hereditary risk for both cancer and heart disease, and steps you can take to prevent them.

Now with advanced research and new algorithms under the hood, it’s the only tool of its kind that assesses your risk for both of these diseases.

Understanding your family risk for heart disease and cancer

As research into heart disease and cancer has advanced, clinicians and researchers found that many diseases have significant genetic and hereditary components, which means that if your family members had such a disease, there’s an increased chance you might as well. However, it’s not a guarantee, and the Family Health Risk Calculator will help you and your doctors better determine what that actual risk may be. Knowing your risk and taking the appropriate preventive steps can play a key role in keeping you healthy and avoiding the onset of these common yet potentially serious diseases.

The new calculator is the fourth iteration of a tool that’s been available at Ohio State for more than two decades. It was developed by genetic counselors, physicians and researchers from the Division of Human Genetics at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. Using a combination of algorithms tied to the latest evidence-based hereditary and genetics research, today’s Family Health Risk Calculator is the most advanced tool yet available to the public.

The first online tool to fully assess hereditary risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease

According to Kevin Sweet, MS, LGC, director of the Family Health Risk Calculator Program and a professor of clinical internal medicine in the Division of Human Genetics, earlier versions of the tool were the first in the country to incorporate genetics research and guidelines into the algorithms for cancer risk. Earlier versions also included a cardiovascular risk calculator that assessed an individual’s risk specifically for coronary heart disease, focusing on a patient’s personal behaviors and history. Today’s calculator now uses new, more advanced algorithms based on the latest cardiovascular guidelines for multiple hereditary heart conditions.

Sweet says the team was able to push the tool forward because the field of cardiovascular genetics has been rapidly advancing, and new research allows for better clarity about who in a family might be susceptible to heart disease. In other words, rather than looking only at your personal heart disease risk factors, the new tool now accounts for family heart disease history as well.

For example, one type of high cholesterol is the most common genetic heart condition, and is estimated to affect 1 in 220 people. If it isn’t identified and treated at an early stage, those with this condition have a 30% to 50% higher risk of having a coronary event than the general population. The Family Health Risk Calculator flags that higher risk, allowing users and their doctors to take recommended tests or screenings and explore preventative measures to prevent a cardiac event.

Sweet’s colleague, Elizabeth Jordan, MS, LGC, associate professor of clinical internal medicine in the Division of Human Genetics, put those updated guidelines into a massive spreadsheet used by a Columbus-based company called Switchbox, the software engineering team developing the new algorithms and the web tool.

“We now have guidelines and expert recommendations that put more structure around how hereditary factors can be used to predict heart health risks,” Jordan says.

Meanwhile, at least 10% of all cancers are based on hereditary risk. Algorithms used to calculate cancer risk are based on guidelines used with permission from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, as well as those developed by the Division of Human Genetics experts. These guidelines for both diseases also outline standards of care based on hereditary and risk results, including those around additional screenings and behavior recommendations that can ultimately prevent onset of these diseases.

“Prevention comes from having knowledge of your risks,” Jordan says.

Using the risk calculator

The Family Health Risk Calculator is free and open to anyone to use. To get started calculating your heart disease or cancer risk, first go to the Family Health Risk Calculator. Sweet and Jordan recommend quickly creating an account, which allows you to more easily start and stop the questionnaire and save your results. From there, you can choose which assessment you’d like to complete first: cancer or heart disease.

Each assessment takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete. Results will be more accurate based on the more information you have about family incidence of these diseases, and specifically those involving parents, siblings, children, grandparents and aunts and uncles on both sides of your family. One key feature of the tool is that you can return and update your information as time progresses to continue building a more accurate picture of your risk.

The cardiac assessment asks about: 

The cancer assessment will ask about incidences of all common and rare cancers and sub-types, including brain and spine, breast, colorectal, prostate, pancreas, leukemia, lymphoma, lung and others. Even if you don’t have all of the information about each incidence of cancer or heart disease in your family, the risk calculator can still give you and your doctors more information about your risks than you would have otherwise and can be a powerful prevention tool for you and your family.

After completing the assessment, print or share your risk level documents with your primary care provider to discuss the results. You also have the option of sending your assessment to family members so they can become more knowledgeable about their own risks and action steps to take.

Ready to learn your family health risk?

Get started with the Family Health Risk Calculator

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