Your Health: Genetic testing for stomach cancer

The story of one extended family with a genetic form of stomach cancer, and the courageous, but potentially life-saving decision they chose to make.
The story of one extended family with a genetic form of stomach cancer, and the courageous, but potentially life-saving decision they chose to make.
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 5:03 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - In some cases, it’s easy to see what we’ve inherited from our parents and family. But when it comes to certain health conditions, genetics can play a big role.

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

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

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 is a certified genetic counselor at Mass General Cancer Center. She says a huge increase in the number of testing labs has made a recent, dramatic difference in the field.

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

One of those genes, the CHD1 mutation, is responsible for the aggressive stomach cancer that claimed Beth’s brother.

“My sister Kathy tested positive. My brother Mike tested positive,” Beth said. “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 said.

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 CHD1 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,’” said Shannon Walsh, Beth’s Niece.

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 said. “We probably wouldn’t be here to tell this story, to be honest.”

Beth and her family take nutritional supplements to compensate for foods they have a hard time processing. In addition to Beth’s niece Shannon, one of Beth’s children, and two of her brother Steve’s children have tested positive for the stomach cancer gene.

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