Medical Moment: How genetic testing can play a vital role in cancer prevention

Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 5:47 PM EST
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(WNDU) - In some cases, it’s easy to see what we’ve inherited from our family, but when it comes to certain health conditions, genetics may play a critically important role for generations.

One extended family with a genetic form of stomach cancer had to make a courageous and potentially life-saving decision.

54-year-old Beth Lambert comes from a big family; she’s one of five siblings. In 2006, her brother Steve died from a rare form of stomach cancer.

“Just watching our brother go from someone who was so full of life, and he really was as much as he could be up until the end,” Beth Lambert recalled.

At the same time, their mother was battling colon cancer. Her cancer cells had the same unusual signet cell pattern as Steve’s. An alert physician suggested a genetic test. Kristen Shannon, a certified genetic counselor at the Mass General Cancer Center, says a huge increase in the number of testing labs has made a recent, dramatic difference in the field.

“So, in addition to bRCA1 and bRCA2, we can test for up to 80 different genes that are associated with cancer,” Shannon explained.

One of those genes, the CDH1 mutation, is responsible for the aggressive stomach cancer that claimed Beth’s brother.

“My sister Kathy tested positive,” Beth said. “My brother Mike tested positive. Our brother Dave tested negative and then I tested positive.”

Since the cancer involved the lining of the stomach, prevention meant having their stomachs surgically removed.

“You know, people a lot of times are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know you could live without a stomach’ and, ‘That’s so radical and that I can’t believe you would ever do that.’ And we always say it’s such a no-brainer to us.”

Beth and her brother Mike scheduled their surgeries on the same day; then, the focus shifted to the next generation. Mike’s daughter Shannon tested positive for the CDH1 gene in college. She also chose to have her stomach removed.

“So it went from a, ‘You can wait as long as you want, sort of within reason’ to, ‘You should really think about doing this,’” Shannon Walsh said.

Beth and her family eat small meals. No food is off limits, but some are easier to process than others. Despite the challenges, Beth is thankful their mother started them on the path to uncovering their genetic risk.

“If she hadn’t done that, you know, we’d be telling a very different story,” Beth finished. “We probably wouldn’t be here to tell this story, to be honest.”

Beth and her family take supplements to compensate for foods they have a hard time processing.

On Aug. 24, Ibex Medical Analytics announced that they developed the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) designed to detect gastric cancer.

Each year, one million patients around the globe are diagnosed with stomach cancer.

Ibex researchers and executives hope that their new AI can help save lives.

Dr. Chaim Linhart, the CTO, and Co-founder of Ibex, explains how this tool is part of a broader movement to adopt AI into healthcare.

“In very broad terms, our AI algorithms analyze images of biopsies. Our AI solution can detect cancerous cells within the biopsy; it can pinpoint their location and grade the tumor. The AI insights are also used for streamlining working processes within the pathology labs,” Dr. Linhart explains.