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September 16, 2004

New Cancer Program Established

Colorectal cancer is newly diagnosed in more than 130,000 men and women each year and is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. While most colorectal cancers occur in people over the age of 50 and are not related to hereditary factors, colorectal cancer that occurs in someone under the age of 50 or a cluster of cancers within the same family may be a sign of a hereditary condition.

To help identify families who may be at greater risk for colorectal cancer and to start screening them earlier, UPMC Cancer Centers have established the Hereditary Colorectal Tumor Program. The program was developed to serve high-risk patients and their families by offering risk assessment, genetic counseling, prevention programs, clinical trials and a full range of treatment options.

“People who have a family history of colorectal cancer have about twice the risk of developing the disease compared to the general population,” said Linda Farkas, clinical director of the Hereditary Colorectal Tumor Program, and assistant professor of surgery, Division of Surgical Oncology at Pitt’s School of Medicine. “By identifying individuals and families at high risk for colorectal cancer, we can start their screening earlier, follow them more closely and treat them as soon as they show evidence of disease. Early treatment, in turn, may translate to a lower mortality rate in this group.”

The most common form of hereditary colon cancer, hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC, is responsible for 3 to 5 percent of all colorectal cancers and is associated with a 60 percent risk of endometrial cancer and a greatly increased risk of other less common diseases, including ovarian and gastric cancers. HNPCC is primarily caused by an inherited mutation in either of two genes, MLH1 and MLH2.

“Half of the children of people who inherit a mutation in MLH1 and MLH2 will inherit one of these mutations themselves,” said Farkas. The program will serve individuals with a personal or family history of colorectal or endometrial cancer diagnosed before the age of 50; families with multiple generations affected by colorectal cancer; men and women of Ashkenazi Jewish decent with colorectal cancer; individuals with multiple cancers (colon and ovarian or more than one colon cancer); men and women with a personal or family history of HNPCC, and first-degree relations of those who may be a genetic carrier of colorectal cancer.

For more information on the Hereditary Colorectal Tumor Program, call UPMC’s 24-hour physician referral service at 412/647-7000 or 800/544-2500.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 2

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