Family history- it’s a treasure trove of much more than memories. For many it holds the key to their cancer risk.
“About 15% of colorectal cancer is genetically inheritable and a smaller sub-set of that what we call Lynch syndrome or HNPCC colon cancer,” says Dr. Valerie Dyke, colorectal surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
A simple blood test can tell whether you carry the gene. With no outward symptoms, Lynch syndrome is passed down the family tree.
“Fifty percent of each person’s children have it, so it’s inherited by a rate of 50%,” says Dr. Dyke.
If you have this defective gene, your chances of getting colon cancer go up, to almost 80%. Lynch syndrome also strikes early, lowering the average age of diagnosis from 65 to 45. Locally, cancer experts are helping people play detective.
“When we know a patient is a possible risk for Lynch syndrome, we have them meet with our genetic counselor and she does a complete family profile, identifies members in the family who may have died from cancers,” says Laurie Wise, oncology nurse navigator with Lee Memorial Health System’s Regional Cancer Center.
Lynch is responsible for not only colon cancer but also 12 different types of cancer, including bladder, kidney, uterine and endometrial. The risk for female cancers is greater than colon. It’s prompted local surgeons to create an action plan.
“Every single colon tumor is going to be tested if it is removed in someone who is aged 60 or younger. We’re going to test every single one and let everyone know through the genetics counselors whether they test positive for this syndrome and then they’ll help them contact their family and bring them in,” says Dr. Dyke.
Knowledge that gives patients a chance to be proactive - a handful of families are now being monitored in a local registry.
“Some of the patients had to have surgeries because they have developed colon cancers. We’ve had a couple of patients who have elected to have hysterectomies as a result of that diagnosis,” says Wise.
Blessing or curse; following the link may unearth a family secret.