Are you at risk?Lehighton doctor offers genetic screenings for cancer
A Lehighton doctor is using technology to find and treat cancer at its earliest stages, or even prevent cancer before it happens.
Dr. Ahmed Hasan at Lehigh Gastroenterology Associates recently began offering the Myriad myRisk hereditary cancer test, which screens for 28 genes known to greatly increase the lifetime risk of eight types of cancer.
“This test can save your life,” he said. “Prevention and knowledge is better than trying to fix something later.”
After decades of working in the medical field, Hasan has noticed a growing trend toward identifying patients at higher risk of cancer based on their family history. These patients can be screened earlier for cancer, improving the odds of catching cancer in its earliest stages — or in the case of a colon polyp or small breast abnormality, removing areas of concern before they have a chance to become cancerous or spread.
Genetic testing takes this risk screening one step further, identifying the individual genetic factors and risks in any one person or family.
While many people diagnosed with cancer have a “sporadic” diagnosis, meaning that they did not have a relative with the same type of cancer, a number of families have a history of hereditary or familial cancer. These people with hereditary or familiar cancer are more likely to have a close family member with the same or similar cancer diagnosis, as these types of cancer are caused by genetics or a combination of genes and environment.
It’s important to know if you are at risk for a hereditary cancer, Hasan said. Hereditary cancers tend to strike earlier in life, and families with a gene that places them at risk may develop more than one type of cancer throughout the family.
“There are multiple genes that can cause one type of cancer,” he said. “If you have these genes, your risk is rather higher. There are also multiple cancers that can be caused by one gene.”
Doctors will sometimes warn patients of their family’s overall risk of cancer based on a single family member’s diagnosis. Genetic testing has taken this one step further, screening for genes with a known risk that can be inherited from parent to child.
“If I am seeing this patient for colon cancer, and know that they have Lynch syndrome (a genetic condition that often causes colon cancer), I have to warn them that they are at risk for eight other cancers as well,” said Hasan. “We are looking at the colon in this office, but we also need to protect them and warn them about other risks.”
Lynch syndrome can be caused by mutations in at least five different genes.
Another powerful marker for high cancer risk is the TP53 gene mutation. A variation in this single gene can mean a vastly higher risk for breast, ovarian, uterine, prostate, gastric, colorectal, or pancreatic cancer or melanoma.
Hasan had been referring high-risk patients to outside genetic screening companies for several years, as have his colleagues near his Allentown practice. Screening took a simple blood draw. But when Myriad myRisk began offering genetic screening with a saliva sample, he knew that it was time to start screening interested patients in his Lehigh Valley and Lehighton offices.
“If it comes back positive, that can be a devastating thing. But what we want to do is prevent cancer and catch it before it happens,” he added, noting that his office offers initial genetic counseling and explains what results mean for both patients and their family members. Myriad also offers 24/7 phone counseling.
All genetic samples are destroyed after testing is completed.
Outside of genetic testing, the only way to identify a suspected genetic risk is to speak with family members and ask about their medical history. Your personal risk of cancer increases greatly if:
• Two or more family members have been diagnosed with a similar cancer on the same side of the family.
• Any one family member is diagnosed with breast, colorectal or uterine cancer before age 50.
• Any one family member was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer or uterine cancer with abnormal findings, or 10 or more gastrointestinal polyps.
Even if you aren’t at increased risk for certain types of cancer, Hasan encourages people to follow the screening recommendations set by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.
Lehigh Gastroenterology Associates is located at 204 State Road in Lehighton and can be reached by calling 610-377-0443.