It’s long been demonstrated that genes play an important role in your physical makeup. But beyond defining features like your eye color and influencing your height, they can also pass along a predisposition for certain health conditions.

Some disorders, including Down syndrome, have a clear link to family genetics. And advancements in prenatal care mean the risk and presence of these conditions can now be detected before a child is even born.

But when it comes to determining your risk for certain types of cancer and other chronic conditions later in life, a complex interplay of environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors become involved.

In these cases, medical experts often advise the utmost level of caution. Which means possibly participating in preemptive screenings to determine your personal risk factors.

Here’s a look at a few imaging procedures that may serve you best, if you have a family history of certain illnesses.


According to the CDC, individuals whose parents have a history of fragile bones may need to be screened early for osteoporosis. While bone mass naturally declines as we age, osteoporosis is a condition in which the decline occurs more drastically. This increases the risk for potentially debilitating fractures, including hip or spine breakage.

Most people with osteoporosis don’t experience any symptoms at first. They may not know they have it until they’ve already experienced a fracture. Bone density tests, however, can detect indications of osteoporosis early, allowing for lifestyle modifications to slow bone degeneration and reduce injury risk.

Because osteoporosis is more common in women, screening is recommended for female adults over the age of 65. If you have a parent who has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, however, your doctor may recommend screenings as early as the age of 50.

Breast Cancer

There are several different models used to determine a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Family history and known gene mutations are both weighed in each individual case. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer in first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, and children) and second-degree relatives (aunts and cousins) on either side of the family should be factored into these assessments.

For women who are at high risk because of family history, annual breast MRIs and mammograms are recommended starting at the age of 30. Women at an average risk for breast cancer may voluntarily begin screenings by the age of 40, but it’s strongly advised for women to receive them annually by the age of 45.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number-one cause of death in the U.S. Its closely related cousin — stroke — is the fifth leading cause. Both of these cardiovascular conditions may have a genetic link. Though genetic predisposition doesn’t guarantee you’ll suffer from the same health complications your parents may have, it’s important to discuss your family history with your doctor.

There are many methods used to screen for cardiovascular disease, including blood work, electrocardiograms, nuclear stress tests, and CT cardiac scoring. Based on findings from initial screenings, practitioners may advise undergoing imaging tests, such as a carotid ultrasound or abdominal ultrasound to assess the risk of stroke and aortic aneurysm.

While the above listed conditions certainly aren’t the only ones with a genetic component that may warrant preemptive medical imaging, they are among the most common. If your doctor has recommended you for medical imaging for any reason, contact Heartland Imaging. Our full list of imaging options is available online or you can schedule a visit by calling (502) 429-6500.