Son, dad and grandfather sit on a dock, legs dangling. The youngest is fishing with a pole, the older men are helping.

Decoding DNA: Your dad’s health might impact yours

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Do you have your mom’s smile and your dad’s blue eyes? Although we inherit certain physical traits and health risks from both of our parents, some we can attribute specifically to dad’s gene pool.

Kelly Farris, MD, family physician at Methodist Family Health Center – Murphy, says male-pattern baldness is a physical trait that men pass on to their sons.

“If a father has male-pattern baldness, his son is five times more likely to have it than men whose dads don’t have it,” he says.

In terms of more serious medical conditions, men with a first-degree relative who had prostate cancer are more than two times as likely to get the disease as men without this family history. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in American men, but little is known about the genetic predisposition of some men to the disease. Numerous studies point to a family history of the disease as a major risk factor, which may be responsible for an estimated 5 to 10 percent of all prostate cancers.

 Back of father's head, holding son who is looking at camera over father's shoulder. Park grass in background.


A look back at your family tree

Properly assessing a patient’s risk for inherited health conditions depends on a family medical history, Dr. Farris explains. While talking with his patients, he reviews the major diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, that have occurred in recent generations and checks the patients’ cholesterol levels. He notes any genetic red flags that come up during the discussion.

“If a patient’s grandfather and father died of heart attacks in their 40s or 50s, for example, that’s outside the norm,” Dr. Farris says. “In that instance, I would start to think about genetic risk factors to look for. If I have more concerns, I would refer that patient to a genetic specialist.”

He adds that any inherited diseases have a genetic component that can be affected by environmental factors.

“Let’s say your dad had heart disease,” Dr. Farris says. “If he smoked and rarely exercised, his lifestyle had more of an impact on his health than any genetic defect he may have had. I tell patients that if they eat right, exercise, and live a healthy lifestyle, they can help prevent those diseases that run in their family.”


Once you talk to your dad about his family medical history, make time to share that information with your primary care provider. Find one at our Methodist Family Health Centers and Medical Groups.