Ovarian Cancer & the Lynch Syndrome Link

Can medical experts really predict if a woman will get ovarian or uterine/endometrial cancer? In many cases, yes – they really can.

An inherited genetic condition called Lynch syndrome is actually the most common cause of hereditary uterine cancer, and it also increases the risk of ovarian cancer. The syndrome is passed down from generation to generation, predisposing these women not only to gynecologic cancers, but to colon and other cancers as well.

In fact, researchers at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) contributed to studies of Lynch syndrome and its association with certain cancers, including colorectal cancer, in both men and women. These studies prompted the OSUCCC – James to initiate a nationally recognized statewide study in which 42 hospitals across Ohio are enrolling colorectal cancer patients so they can be screened for Lynch syndrome – effectively enabling them to stop cancer in its tracks by detecting genetic “red flags” before cancer develops.  At OSU, all endometrial cancer patients are also invited to participate in this study.

“We can literally save lives by screening at-risk women for Lynch syndrome,” says David Cohn, MD, a gynecologic oncology expert at the OSUCCC – James. “We know that about two percent of women have Lynch syndrome when they’re diagnosed with ovarian or endometrial/uterine cancer, so anyone diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer is checked to see if her cancer is linked to the syndrome. If so, we can recommend genetic counseling for definitive testing for the patient and her relatives, too.

“The reason that’s doubly important,” Dr. Cohn continues, “is that she may also be at risk for other kinds of cancer, like colon cancer for example, so her relatives – both male and female – would benefit from screening to see if they’re also at risk.”

If Lynch syndrome is found, patients and their relatives can take cancer-prevention measures to minimize their risk of developing certain cancers. Depending on each patient’s diagnosis, Dr. Cohn says those measures could include additional genetic testing, more frequent colonoscopies for early prevention and detection or, in some cases, risk-reducing surgery.

“It’s so important to track down the genetics of all cancers,” says Dr. Cohn.  “We know that there is no routine cancer, and when we can identify even better ways to treat each person’s individual cancer, we can actually cure more patients, and in many cases prevent it from ever occurring in the first place.”

To learn more about genetic testing and the Lynch syndrome link, visit cancer.osu.edu or speak with a genetic counselor by calling 614-293-6694.