The Cancer Risk Evaluation Program at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center
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Assessing Your Risk for Hereditary Cancer

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Facts about Gastrointestinal Cancer

Gastrointestinal cancers are the second most common cancers among men and women in the United States. Approximately 140,000 new cases will be diagnosed in the next year, according to the American Cancer Society.

You may have already been diagnosed with a gastrointestinal cancer or have gastrointestinal cancer in your family and wonder how that may affect other family members or yourself. If you have even one close relative who has colon or another type of gastrointestinal cancer, you may be at an increased risk for that cancer.

Hereditary Gastrointestinal Cancer

There are two syndromes that account for the majority of inherited colon cancer: familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).

Individuals with FAP are at high risk of developing both non-cancerous polyps and colon cancer. Polyps appearing at a young age, if left untreated, can result in cancer of the colon. An early diagnosis combined with appropriate treatment and follow-up can dramatically lower the chances that a person with FAP will develop colon cancer. FAP runs in families, meaning it can be passed from parent to child. Genetic counseling can help to determine who in a family may be at risk.

Men and women with HNPCC are also at a higher risk for colon cancer. HNPCC, also known as Lynch Syndrome, accounts for approximately 3 percent of all colon cancers, making HNPCC the most commonly inherited known condition that predisposes a person to colon cancer. Both men and women with HNPCC are at high risk for colon cancer, but women with HNPCC are also at increased risk for endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterus). Additional cancer risks can be associated with HNPCC, such as ovarian, ureter and bladder cancer. Therefore, a carefully coordinated approach to treatment, follow-up care, and continued monitoring is essential.

There are also other less common inherited syndromes that increase the risk for colon cancer and polyps. Through the Cancer Risk Evaluation Program, our team at Pennsylvania Hospital is able to provide clinical, genetic, and research services in all areas.


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