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Colorectal Cancer Gene Screens: December 17, 2013

Were you born with a blueprint for cancer? It may be hiding in your genes. With advanced testing genetic counselors can screen for a specific type of colorectal cancer.

“If they know that someone in their family has had colorectal cancer or endometrial cancer that’s always a red flag,” says Mary Ann Orlang, genetic counselor with the Regional Cancer Center, Lee Memorial Health System.

Called Lynch Syndrome, the disease often appears before the age of 50 which is the recommended age for a colonoscopy screening.

“Patients that have the syndrome have a genetic mutation that causes the adenomas or the polyps to progress more rapidly and turn into cancer much more rapidly then they do in a normal population,” says Laurie Wise, nurse navigator with Lee Memorial Health System.

Testing usually not found outside of research or academic medical centers, is available at the Regional Cancer Center.

“It’s looking for genes that are known to be related the hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome. It looks at actually genetic mismatches and specific chromosomes,” says Orlang.

Someone with Lynch Syndrome has a 70% chance of getting colon cancer over their lifetime.  It also raises the risk of other cancers. A first diagnosis in a family has implications that spread through the family tree.

“If this is positive, you’re going to have to let your family members know. Your siblings, your cousins depending on which side the cancer is on,” says Orlang.

People who carry Lynch genetics and don’t have cancer, have an opportunity, to catch disease at its earliest and most survivable stage.

“The first thing we talk about is the need to have on-going surveillance, they have to be alert,” says Orlang.

So learning about Lynch may be a mixed blessing.

“They can also identify the family members that may also be at risk and we can eliminate those cancers in those patients, which is incredibly exciting,” says Wise.