Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is an autosomal dominant disorder characterized by abnormally high concentrations of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood, which predisposes affected persons to premature coronary heart disease (CHD) and death. FH is one of the most common inherited disorders and the most common one known to cause premature CHD in people of European descent. The vast majority of people with FH have inherited a single mutation from one parent in either the LDL receptor (LDLR), apolipoprotein B (APOB), or proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) genes. Despite their greatly elevated risk of coronary heart disease, most individuals with FH remain undiagnosed, untreated, or inadequately treated.
Cascade screening is a mechanism for identifying people at risk for a genetic condition by a process of systematic family tracing. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the United Kingdom recommends cascade screening of close biological relatives of people with a clinical diagnosis of FH in order to effectively identify additional FH patients. The ultimate goal of this testing is to reduce morbidity and mortality from heart disease in persons with FH through early diagnosis and effective disease management. The goal of this article is to outline the available evidence on the clinical validity and utility of cascade screening for FH, while emphasizing the availability, usefulness, and recommendation for including DNA testing (if the disease-causing mutation has been identified).