Cancer in their genes, White Bear Press, March 21
Cancer in their genesPanel members for the cable broadcast on colon cancer included Drs. Tom Amatruda and Noralane Lindor; host Judy Skeie-Voss; Anna Leininger and Keith Warner.
March 25, 2012, 8:28am
Cancer in their genes
Local advocate works to bring awareness to hereditary causes of colon cancerPosted: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 5:14 pm | Updated: 10:18 am, Wed Mar 21, 2012.
WHITE BEAR LAKE — Genealogy types might want to add a footnote to branches on their family tree: Know your relative’s cancer history — who had it, where in the body it started and how old they were. It may save your life.
Those words of wisdom come from Anna Leininger, a counselor with St. Paul-based Minnesota Oncology who helps patients determine their genetic risk for cancer.
Keith and Patty Warner of Vadnais Heights heeded that advice. The couple, co-founders of White Bear Lake’s Relay for Life, know what it’s like to live with cancer. They lost a daughter to cancer in 1998, survived Keith’s bouts with colon and prostate cancers and support another daughter diagnosed last March with colon cancer.
The family’s unusually high incidence of the disease raised red flags with Keith’s surgeon. He asked Keith if he had ever heard of Lynch syndrome.
Named after Dr. Henry Lynch, a pioneering cancer researcher, Lynch syndrome is a genetic condition that increases the risk of getting colon cancer and a variety of other cancers.
Warner’s physician advised the family seek genetic counseling and blood tests confirmed Keith was indeed a carrier of the gene for Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colon Cancer, otherwise known as Lynch syndrome. Patty does not carry the gene, which means their offspring have a 50 percent chance of having Lynch syndrome. Three of their four surviving children tested positive for the disorder, including the daughter diagnosed last spring. All four have a yearly colonoscopy.
People with Lynch syndrome are usually younger than average when colon cancer strikes and the disease is more aggressive. They also have a higher risk of developing more than one cancer in the colon and most tumors grow in the right side. In the general population, colon cancer is found more frequently on the left side of the colon.
Warner, 77, began his cancer journey when he was only 34. Colon cancer returned 25 years later, a common occurrence with Lynch syndrome. His family history revealed his mother had three different types of cancer (colon, female and skin cancer) but died of old age in her late 80s. She lost two brothers to cancer and one of her parents. Keith’s sister died of colon cancer, and one of her sons lost a kidney to cancer.
“It never registered with me at the time,” Warner recalled. “I wish I had more information today. People need to know their family history.”
March is national colon cancer awareness month, and Warner wanted to do something to bring attention to the hereditary aspect. He recruited three cancer experts for a 30-minute panel discussion taped earlier this month at the Ramsey/Washington Suburban Cable Commission studio in White Bear Lake.
Hosted by station production director Judy Skele-Voss, two oncologists and genetics counselor Leininger discussed colon cancer and the little known Lynch syndrome. Warner participated on the panel as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society.
Panel member Dr. Thomas Amatruda, director of cancer genetics at Minnesota Oncology, noted the importance of identifying people at high risk through screening and prevention. Screening via colonoscopies can detect cancers almost before they start by removing polyps, he said.
Those with genetic predisposition, however, should start early. “Colonoscopy at age 50 is too late for families with Lynch syndrome,” Amatruda said. “Oncologists are becoming aware that family history means a heightened degree of screening.”
An inherited gene mutation causes Lynch syndrome. “Signs of hereditary risk is early age of onset, more than one cancer in the same person and how many cancers have occurred in the family,” according to Leininger. “Lynch syndrome doesn’t tell you if or when, it just changes the odds.”
Dr. Noralane Lindor, a professor of medical genetics at Mayo Clinic, also appeared on the panel. Only a small percentage of cancers are hereditary, she said, and for people who don’t know their family history, there are laboratory techniques and other ways of testing for Lynch syndrome.
The disease is also under diagnosed, Lindor added. “Fewer than 10 percent of families know they have Lynch syndrome.”
As for Warner, he’s on a first-name basis with his colon/rectal specialist.
“Colonoscopies are not that bad,” he said. “They were discovered in 1972 and I’ve had one every year since then. It is important for people to be aware. Knowing the risk can change the outcome.”
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