Letter: Know your family’s cancer history

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and the Colorectal Cancer Multidisciplinary Care Team at Mary Bird Perkins — Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center encourages everyone to talk to their doctor about their personal cancer risks. There are many factors that determine whether an individual will develop cancer, including history of cancer in other family members.

It is important for people to know their family history and discuss this information with their doctor. Individuals who have a family history of cancer, including colorectal cancer, may be at higher risk to develop cancer and may need additional cancer screenings.

While most colon cancers occur by chance, some individuals have a hereditary predisposition to the disease. That is, sometimes cells are pushed or allowed to “go bad” because there is a defective gene running in the family.

Genetic testing can help to identify individuals and families with hereditary types of cancer. One example is a condition called Lynch syndrome.

Individuals with Lynch syndrome inherit a mutated gene from one of their parents. Because of the mutated gene, they are at high risk for colon cancer, as well as uterine, ovarian and other gastrointestinal cancers, along with some other, less common, cancers.

About 70 percent of people with Lynch syndrome will experience colorectal cancer during their lifetime, and as many as 50 percent of people with Lynch syndrome will develop a second colorectal cancer. Also, in families with Lynch syndrome, cancer tends to occur at younger ages.

The good news is that colorectal cancer, the most common type of cancer to affect individuals with Lynch syndrome, may be preventable. Through early and frequent colonoscopies, doctors can find and remove polyps before they lead to malignant disease.

If cancer occurs, but is found early enough, it may be more easily treated and cured. The key is to identify families with hereditary forms of cancer, so that those family members with a mutated gene can take action to try to prevent cancer. This may include starting cancer screenings at an earlier age and more frequently than the general population.

The Colorectal Cancer Multidisciplinary Care Team at Mary Bird Perkins — Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center encourages you to discuss this topic with a doctor, get proper cancer screenings and know your family history.

If you have any questions or concerns about your personal or family history of cancer, talk with your doctor about further evaluation, genetic counseling and possible testing.

For more information on colorectal cancer, please visit http://www.marybird.com/olol.

DR. Duane W. Superneau

medical geneticist

Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Team

Colorectal Cancer Multidisciplinary Care Team

Baton Rouge