Wednesday, April 23, 2008

day +246

As anticipated, yesterday turned out to be pretty long.

I had woken up at dawn in order to make it up to Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan by about 7 am, but I found the sky too cloudy for what I wanted. Consequently, I went back to sleep and then, woke up again around 8:30 in the morning. By about 9:30, the sky had started to clear up but by then it was far too late for what I wanted, so I'm hoping to try again early tomorrow morning.

At 11:45 am, I attended a seminar titled "All In The Family: Clinical Genetics at Memorial Sloan-Kettering" at the Rockefeller Research Laboratories Auditorium, which is across the street from Sloan's hospital. I found the seminar discussion to be quite rewarding. The panel experts - Dr. Kenneth Offit, Dr. Daniel Coit, and Megan Harlan - explained the process of genetic testing for cancer at MSKCC and the available treatments for individuals at risk for developing inherited cancers.

Some of the points that I took from the seminar are:

  • Most cancer is not hereditary. Only 5-10% is hereditary.
  • The most common hereditary cancers are: breast, ovarian, colon, uterine, thyroid, and prostrate
  • Of these, colon cancer is the most preventable due to advances in early detection and the ability to remove polyps through a colonoscopy.
  • Not all genetic mutations can be detected with genetic testing. Such tests can be inconclusive.
  • No genetic test exists yet for lymphoma

But the most impressive thing that I learned which was a key part of the seminar was the presentation about MSKCC's gene-based reduction surgery and its potential as an effective tool in reducing cancer risk.. To summarize, if an individual is proven by genetic testing to have a significant risk of developing cancer (such as breast or thyroid), prophylactic surgery can be done to remove the part that is deemed at high risk. In one example told to us, a young boy perhaps no more than 6 years old had his thyroid removed because genetic testing had shown that due to family history he was at great risk for thyroid cancer. Remarkably, analysis of the removed thyroid revealed that in fact three tiny tumors were present already. This young boy, they said, will now be able to lead a long healthy life as a result of this elective operation.

In our packets was a copy of the September 2006 NYT article, Couples Cull Embryos to Halt Heritage of Cancer, which offers insightful background to the issue of genetic testing and to the other matters that were presented at the seminar yesterday.

Learn more about MSKCC's Clinical Genetics Service here.

Following the seminar, I met up with friend and fellow blogger, Michelle, for a late lunch before I headed down to the East Village for Lindsey's birthday party which was really great. Lots of young adult cancer survivors were there. There was just a really lively atmosphere. I'm so glad that I was able to make it. I didn't get home until about 9:30 pm after which I spent the rest of the night watching the results of yesterday's Pennsylvania's primary.

Think about it though. All of this . . . the seminar, eating out with friends, the party, and my visit to the Met last week would not have been possible had I had my transplant two or three months later. As my mom has mentioned to me at least twice, the timing has worked out perfectly. Spring is here and I'm mask-free. How wonderful is that! Imagine having to deal with masks and gloves now as the weather has warmed up. In retrospect, I'm so glad I had the transplant exactly when I did despite the challenges of the winter.

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