Baylor Dallas lab, local resident draw attention to rare genetic disease

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on October 6, 2012 at 12:10 AM

Updated Saturday, Oct 6 at 12:10 AM

DALLAS -- Last fall, when Uyen Tran was 43, she found out she had colon cancer.

She thought she would die.

"Not to be melodramatic or anything but, yeah," Tran said. "That thought is always in the back of your head."

On the cusp of starting chemo, her brother sent her an article about a type of colon cancer that doesn't respond to chemotherapy.

"Lynch syndrome is an inherited disease where you're born with a mutation that increases your risk of getting cancer of certain organs," said Baylor Dallas Chief of Gastroenterology Dr. Richard Boland. "Like cancer of the colon, uterus, ovary, urinary tract, small intestine, a few other places."

Boland's lab on the main Baylor Dallas campus specializes in unlocking the mysteries of cancer. He and scientists in his lab increasingly see cancer as a disease defined not by where it starts, but by genetic defects.

Within Uyen Tran's blood, they found the Lynch mutation, which affects only three percent of colon cancer cases.

Chemo wouldn't kill the cancer, but could kill her.

The disease also runs in families.

"And then we were able to look at other members of her family very specifically and very accurately, and were able to tell other family members that you have the mututation or you don't have it," Boland said.

The brother who had coincidentally told Uyen about Lynch syndrome tested positive. In fact, he had a small cancer already growing in his colon.

"So the joke in our family is I saved his life," Tran said.

She and her brother are both doing well, though Uyen Tran worries now about her young children, who may also have the genetic mutation. But she knows with regular annual screening for the various types of cancers for which she is high risk, Lynch Syndrome has a 90 percent survival rate.

Yet most people, even many doctors, have never heard of it and wouldn't know to test for it. Boland, his lab, and Uyen Tran would very much like to change that.

"I don't want everybody to think 'You have cancer, we go immediately to chemotherapy,'" Tran said. "So yeah, the more we can get the word out, the better."

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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