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Linking Families for Cancer Prevention

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BYU's Center for Family History and Genealogy (CFHG) works in partnership with Dr. Brian Shirts at the University of Washington on a public health initiative for families with genetic variants which cause increased cancer risk. These variants are in genes such as the BRCA1, MLH1, and PALB2 variants. Dr. Shirts has shown that people with the same variant often share a specific common ancestor. His team identifies individuals who have one of these variants and puts them in contact with the CFHG team of genealogy researchers.

The CFHG team works directly with participants to gather information about their known relatives. Genealogy researchers then use genetic and traditional genealogical research to build out the family trees of the participants. First, research is done to identify the participant's second and third cousins who may have the variant. The cousin information is sent to the genetic counselors at the University of Washington who then help the participant inform those relatives of their higher risk of cancer. This is done so preventative measures can be taken.

Next, the CFHG team conducts research to identify a common ancestor for multiple participants who have the same variant. Once the most recent common ancestor is found, descendancy research identifies all living descendants of that common ancestor. Information about the living descendants is sent to the genetic counselors on Dr. Shirts’ team, so the participants can notify these additional relatives of their potential cancer risk. Hereditary cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer, and Dr. Shirts feels that researching family history is one of the keys to prevention.

Ashlyn Price, student supervisor
Ashlyn Price, student supervisor

To participate, people with a known inherited mutation can find out more and sign up at

Additional Links:
KSL News Radio: Genealogy cancer research beginning in Utah
Daily Herald: BYU Column: Fighting cancer with family history
BYU FHSS Blog: Fighting Cancer with Family History

Linking Families Contact information:
Phone: (801) 422-8638