Joseph's brother was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 38 and is now battling a recurrence after 5 years of being cancer free. As they looked closely at the family history, there were several other aunts and uncles who had also had cancer in the stomach, pancreas or bladder. Joseph asked me about genetic testing for himself and his children. He wondered if these cancers were random events or related to a genetic disorder.
Researchers have found that certain cancers of the colon, rectum, kidney, stomach, pancreas, bladder, uterus, ovaries and breasts are linked to a mutation in 5 different genes known as the mismatched repair, or the MMR gene. Known as Lynch Syndrome, this cluster of gastrointestinal, breast and ovarian cancers is often overlooked if we don't ask about family history.
People can now be tested for these genetic mutations so that we can provide better surveillance and hopefully catch things early when treatments are more effective. The best way to approach this is to ask for a genetic consult so that you can map out your family tree and determine which tests if any you need.
I recently covered this issue on CBS.