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What to Know About Lynch Syndrome: When Cancer Runs in the Family, Awareness is Key


What to Know About Lynch Syndrome: When Cancer Runs in the Family, Awareness is Key

Dr. Jennie Draper shares information and preventative strategies on Lynch Syndrome Awareness Day, March 22

If you have any family history of colorectal or endometrial cancer, Lynch syndrome should be on your radar. About 1 in 279 people have this hereditary cancer syndrome that can cause a predisposition to certain types of cancers. However, it’s estimated that only about 5% of Lynch syndrome cases are diagnosed. My hope is to spread awareness of Lynch syndrome so that those who may have it can take action towards preventing these cancers and potentially save lives.

What is Lynch syndrome?

Lynch Syndrome is a type of inherited cancer syndrome associated with a genetic predisposition to certain types of cancer, especially colorectal and endometrial (uterine) cancers. People who have Lynch syndrome have a much higher risk of developing these types of cancers as well as stomach, breast, ovarian, pancreatic, intestinal, and other types of cancers. They are also at a higher risk for developing multiple types of cancer and at younger ages. (However, some people with Lynch syndrome may never develop cancer.)

While the syndrome is a rare occurrence in the overall population, if a parent has Lynch syndrome, they have a 50% chance of passing it along to each child. Since Lynch syndrome runs through families at this high rate, it is very important for anyone who tests positive to spread the word to their family members who have such a high probability of having it.

Should I get tested for Lynch syndrome?

If someone in your family has tested positive for Lynch syndrome, then you should be tested.  If you have any of the patterns below personally or in your family history, it’s also important to consider testing. You can seek information from your gynecologist on evaluation and have this coordinated with an oncology geneticist.

Signs of Lynch Syndrome

  • Developing colorectal or endometrial cancer younger than age 50
  • Developing colorectal cancer and other types of cancers linked with Lynch syndrome separately or at the same time
  • Colorectal cancer in 1 or more first-degree relatives who also has or has had another Lynch syndrome-related cancer, with 1 of these cancers developing before age 50. The phrase “first-degree relatives” include parents, siblings, and children.
  • Colorectal cancer in 2 or more first- or second-degree relatives with another Lynch syndrome-related cancers. “Second-degree relatives” include aunts, uncles, grandparents, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces.

What symptoms should I watch out for if I have Lynch syndrome?

If you have tested positive for Lynch Syndrome and are experiencing any symptoms that could be related to colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, or any of the cancers related to Lynch syndrome, you should see your doctor. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include a persistent change in bowel movements including constipation, diarrhea, change in consistency of your stool, blood in stool, a feeling that your bowel doesn’t fully empty, or persistent abdominal discomfort or gas. Endometrial cancer symptoms include bloody or watery discharge, bleeding between periods or after menopause, abdominal pain, difficulty or pain during urination, or pain during sex.

If I have Lynch syndrome, what can I do to reduce my risk?

The good news is Lynch syndrome can be manageable. You can have earlier screenings and preventative treatment so that if you were to develop a cancer, it could be identified earlier or prevented altogether.  Management depends on the type of Lynch syndrome, but it includes frequent colonoscopies and endoscopies. Depending on your particular gene, you should be having yearly appointments with a gastroenterologist. You can also consider a risk-reducing hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-ophorectomy: a surgery to remove the uterus, tubes and ovaries after you have completed your pregnancies so that you don’t get uterine or ovarian cancer.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are also important for maintaining overall wellness, as well as reducing alcohol intake and eliminating tobacco use.

New Colon Cancer Screening Guidelines

One more thing to note: due to the increasing prevalence of colon cancer, and at a younger age, the guidelines for colon cancer screening have been adjusted. Colonoscopies to screen for the risk of colon cancer are now advised at age 45, not 50.  Please review updated health screening guidelines with your OBGYN at your next annual exam.

Lynch syndrome awareness can save lives!

When it comes to cancer, knowledge is power. While it may be scary to get tested for Lynch syndrome, knowing what level of risk you are dealing with will allow you to take action to prevent or catch cancers earlier when they are much more easily treated. You can also share this knowledge with your family members and possibly save their lives as well.

If you’d like to discuss any specific concerns with Lynch syndrome or the related cancers, you can call us at 804-897-2100 to schedule an appointment with a VPFW provider. You can also set an appointment online.



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