Lynch syndrome is an inherited medical condition in which people affected inherit several genes that make them much more likely to develop certain types of cancer. Most commonly those who have Lynch syndrome are at higher risk for colon, endometrial and ovarian cancer, and are especially likely to get these conditions at a young age, before they turn 45. The condition, which is often diagnosed based on family history or early onset of cancer plus family history, is best fought through examinations that can catch cancer early on when chance of treating it successfully remains highest.
A person gets this condition by inheritance. When someone has the condition and has children, there is a 50% chance each child may inherit the condition. What you are really inheriting with the condition are some genes that don’t perform certain jobs in the body correctly. Some of our genes work to correct DNA that has mistakes in it. People with Lynch syndrome lack the ability for these “correcting” genes to work properly, which in time can lead to abnormal tissue growth and cancer.
If you develop colon, endometrial or ovarian cancer at a young age, and you don’t know your family history, you may have inherited this syndrome. If you do know your family’s medical history, there are some guidelines, which establish when to look for the condition. These include history in the family, especially of your mother or father, of developing cancer or tumors, which include the above-mentioned and also cancer of the stomach, kidney, bowel, brain, and skin, and especially whether that history extends to the parent’s siblings. Doctors also look for two back-to-back generations of such history of cancer and when cancers were developed, especially if they occurred before the age of 50.
When doctors know the medical history of family members and Lynch syndrome is suspected, this generally means the condition is treated through earlier screening for cancers. Doctors will also generally refer you to a genetic counselor, who may order genetic testing. Even if you do test positive for the condition, this is not a guarantee that you will get cancer, but you do have a 60-80% chance of developing cancer in your lifetime, hence the extensive screening like colonoscopy, ultrasounds on ovaries, and testing of endometrial tissue, usually yearly once you are in your 30s. A negative test, though, doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have Lynch syndrome, so with the condition strongly suspected in your family, you will still need more extensive cancer screening on a yearly basis.
Greater potential that you have Lynch syndrome may be evaluated by testing any tumors that might develop, to look for the lack of certain proteins in tissue samples. Yet even this testing may not confirm the condition. Given the high rate of inheritance from parents, and the risks of cancers that can be fatal if untreated, even those who test negative for the syndrome are usually followed very closely.
Many people who have Lynch syndrome are not only physically challenged but also emotionally challenged by the risks of developing cancer. This can be a difficult thing to understand and deal with, and it may be complicated by having lost family members to certain forms of cancer caused by Lynch syndrome. In addition to genetic counseling, many people benefit from regular counseling or contact with support groups to help them deal with the emotional affects arising from the condition.