Tribute to the Father of Hereditary Cancer Genetics

6/28/19

Dr. Henry Lynch was a pioneer geneticist of the 20th century. When everyone was solely contributing the cause of cancer to environmental factors, he looked to our DNA for additional answers. His findings not only led to the use of the term, hereditary cancer, but his work led to the discovery of many genes that are attributed to hereditary cancer, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 which are associated with breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer.

Before becoming a doctor, Henry Lynch grew up in Depression-era New York. He left school as a teenager to enlist in the U.S. Navy during World War II by using the name of a relative a few years older. After his discharge, he was a professional boxer known as “Hammerin’ Hank.” He also completed his baccalaureate before getting a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of Denver. He later went on to become a medical doctor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1960 and lager gained a PhD in human genetics from the University of Texas in Austin.

In 1967, he was hired by Creighton University where he spent the majority of his career. As a physician he came across a patient that was an alcoholic, and believed he would die of colon cancer because many people in his family did. Most physicians at the time would have attributed any diagnosis of cancer to be the result of the drinking or various other environmental contributions. Lynch was different. He thought there may be a genetic link and decided to investigate. He traced through the family trees of this patient and many others like him to discover that the risk of some colorectal cancers is in fact heritable.

Lynch was able to complete this research with minimal funding since he couldn’t get sufficient support from any of the usual research contributors. He did more research with families and discovered the hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome which later led to the identification of the BRCA mutations. He passed away on June 2, 2019.

Lynch was one of those physicians that took translational medicine and did it in reverse. Translational medicine is a type of innovation where you take a new concept from the lab/bench and apply it in clinical practice. Lynch took the phenomenon that he noticed in the clinic back to the lab and investigated it in order to solve the underlying problem.

The importance of Henry Lynch’s contributions is not the fact that he got to this discovery first, nor is it the fact that he did it when no one else was even looking there. The significance is in the fact that he gave us another crucial slice of the pie that is cancer research. During a time when cancer was perceived as an outside invader, especially considering that a vast majority of people that were being diagnosed with cancer were considered to be at-risk due to their exposure to certain environmental factors such as smoking, excessive drinking, exposure to asbestos, and exposure to other harsh chemicals.

With the impact of Dr. Lynch’s groundbreaking discovery, a person can determine their risk of hereditary cancers and make efforts to mitigate those risks accordingly. Those moderating factors may include lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. A risk assessment can incorporate surgical preventative measures such as a mastectomy or hysterectomy in the case of the BRCA mutations. Without Dr. Lynch’s work, our Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment (PREDICT)would be a more distant ambition than the practical tool that it is today. With our testing we can give a determination of a person’s risk and help ascertain how to best prevent the cancer from happening.

For more information on our testing, check out our website at labsolutions.com. If you are interested in getting your own Hereditary Cancer Risk Assessment, contact your doctor today.

However, that doesn’t necessarily change much. You are still (HOPEFULLY) going to do as your physician has told you, to the best of your abilities. However, you may find that some of your treatment instructions don’t quite mesh well with your current lifestyle. You may find that you don’t respond to the medications as you thought you would have. You may find out more information from your family about a distant relative that had a similar situation. You may find out later that your current medications are NOT supposed to be taken with your new meds.

All of these questions and concerns could be hashed out with your physician if you had known to ask these questions…

That is why we are here. At LabSolutions, we want you to be an active participant in your health. You shouldn’t just take what your physician says without asking questions. You should know which questions to ask, what tests you are providing a specimen for, and what your meds are really doing in your body. Your physician can talk with you about all of this if you are willing to participate.