By Melissa Ramos
In genetic counseling, we focus on the science for our
patients- genes, disease, symptoms, treatment, prognosis. Since we are so
focused on our patients, we sometimes lose sight of the origins of this
information. It doesn’t just magically appear in articles, textbooks, and
databases, but exists because of the work of brilliant individuals in the
field. One such individual is Henry T. Lynch, MD, often cited as the “father of
Dr. Henry T. Lynch passed away on June 2, 2019. We remember
him for his significant work to identify cancer syndromes, patterns of
inheritance and cancer detection. Dr. Lynch realized that a predisposition to
cancer can be hereditary, an unpopular opinion of his time. To prove his
hypothesis, he began to take family histories when meeting with patients, which
is now a key step to understanding a family’s genetics, not only in cancer, but
in all specialties. He tracked families for generations to identify patterns of
cancers and develop the principles of cancer genetics: early age of onset,
specific pattern of multiple cancers, and inheritance patterns in families.
Due to his work, Dr. Lynch is also the namesake of Lynch
syndrome, formerly known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).
Lynch syndrome is an inherited cancer syndrome associated with various cancers,
including colon, rectal, ovarian, breast, and small intestinal cancer. Lynch
syndrome is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, in which one gene
mutation is enough to cause an increased risk for cancer. Lynch syndrome
affects both men and women. If one parent has a disease-causing mutation, there
is a 50% chance each of their children will inherit the mutation and
predisposition for cancer.
Dr. Lynch also contributed to the work associated with
hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC), which is caused by mutations in
the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Certain gene mutations associated with
different hereditary cancer syndromes are more prevalent in individuals with
Ashkenazi Jewish descent. If you have a personal or family history of cancer,
talk to your doctor for more information.
Because of the fortitude and dedication of research
contributors like Dr. Lynch, we are now able to identify disease-causing
mutations in patients, predict the risk of cancer and improve early detection
and treatment options, impacting families worldwide.
To learn more about hereditary cancer syndromes or to speak
with a genetic counselor, visit JewishGenetics.org/cjg/get-screened or contact
us at GeneticScreening@juf.org.