A gene for stomach cancer leads to 11 pre-emptive stomach removals

A genetic testing issue that I first read about yesterday from the early news has reached the U.S. media in full force--a report of the largest family to have preventive surgery to protect themselves from hereditary stomach cancer. The problem appears to have started with Golda Bradfield. She had a rare stomach cancer, and so did at least 6 of her 8 children. These six died of the disease in their 40s and 50s.

Two grandchildren have been diagnosed with stomach cancer and one has died. After learning that David Allen, who died of stomach cancer in 2003, had a specific genetic mutation, the other 17 grandchildren decided to have themselves genetically tested. Six had negative results; 11 were found to have Grandmother Golda's gene.

The cancer in this family is know as hereditary diffuse gastric cancer and is extremely rate. The CDH1 gene mutation was first discovered in 1998 in a large New Zealand family with a history of stomach cancer. About 100 families worldwide have been diagnosed with this cancer. I was unable to find a support group for people with this genetic disease.

Individually, Golda's grandchildren considered the risks-- people with the CDH1 mutation have a 70 percent risk of stomach cancer. All 11 chose to have their stomachs and surrounding lymph nodes removed. At least six were found to be already on their way to having stomach cancer: While the stomachs of all six patients operated on at Standford looked normal before surgery, early tumor growths were found in the tissue removed.

Their lives have changed. Without a stomach, patients typically lose significant weight and must eat smaller meals more often. Some foods they cannot tolerate. But, they are all alive, and know that stomach cancer will not kill them. The long-term effects of stomach removal surgery are still unclear. Researchers around the world are following families with hereditary stomach cancer to find out how the procedure affects quality of life. So far, though effects on the 10 who had surgery earlier were not bad enough to dissuade the last of the 11 to also have the surgery.

No mention was made in news releases about great-grandchildren.

No mention was made in news releases about great-grandchildren.

The full story is available through a number of sources. You can Google "Golda Bradfield" and find a source you consider reputable. Most news items are based on an Associated Press release. To my knowledge, no scientific paper has yet been published.

Marie Godfrey, PhD

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