Health Headlines: Family at high risk of stomach cancer prevents disease thanks to genetic testing

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 6:16 PM CST
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - 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 pay a critically important role for generations.

Fifty-four-year-old Beth Lambert comes from a big family. She is one of five siblings, and 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,” she 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. Certified genetic counselor Kristen Shannon said 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 said.

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

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

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, and then their 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,’” she 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. We probably wouldn’t be here to tell this story, to be honest,” she said.

The family is involved in the nonprofit group “No Stomach for Cancer” to raise awareness and money for research.