Many people know that having a family history of cancer can increase your chance of developing cancer. In some cases, it’s possible to inherit a gene mutation that can cause cancer. That’s what happened to Chaplain Edrees Bridges.
When he was 33 years old, he experienced gastrointestinal issues that didn’t go away. He mentioned it to his mother, and she suggested he see a doctor because of the family history of cancer. The doctor recommended a colonoscopy. His colonoscopy results showed six non-cancerous polyps. His doctor removed the polyps during the procedure.
After that, he continued to have colonoscopies every three years.
About six years ago, before one of his colonoscopies, his pre-procedure bloodwork revealed he had Lynch syndrome.
“I always had concerns that haunted me, but now that I had a name for my situation, I felt that I could address it and take preventive measures,” Bridges explains.
Zoe Bogus, a cancer genetic counselor at Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center, answers a few questions about Lynch syndrome:
What is Lynch syndrome?
Lynch syndrome is an inherited cancer predisposition syndrome that happens when someone inherits a mutation in any one of five different genes. The specific cancer risks can vary by individual and family. However, individuals with this condition may have a higher risk of developing a variety of cancers including (but not limited to) colorectal cancer, uterine cancer, stomach cancer, ovarian cancer, urothelial cancers, brain cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
How will I know if I have it?
Usually, providers use genetic testing to diagnose Lynch syndrome. If you have a family history that includes several relatives who have the cancers listed above, and were diagnosed before the age of 50, it may be time to see a genetic counselor. You can call 443-481-5081 to make an appointment.
If I test negative for Lynch syndrome, does that mean I won’t get colorectal cancer?
No, everyone has some risk of colorectal cancer over the course of their lifetime. It is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations for colon cancer screening based on your own history and family history.
If I test positive for Lynch syndrome, what should my next steps be?
Now that you know you have Lynch syndrome, you may want to consider additional cancer screenings. Talk to your doctor about the best preventive steps for you. You may also want to encourage relatives to get the test as well.
What are the risk factors for colorectal cancer?
Risk factors include:
- Age (risk increases as age increases)
- Racial/ethnic background (African Americans and Jews of Eastern European descent)
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, adenomatous polyps or colorectal cancer
- Family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Being overweight or obese
- Diet high in red and/or processed meats
- Moderate to heavy alcohol use
- Having Type 2 Diabetes
- Inherited syndromes – most common are Lynch Syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
Bridges’ diagnosis hasn’t slowed him down. In August 2021, he made history as the Maryland National Guard’s first chaplain whose faith tradition is Islam. He also works as a special agent with the U.S. Capitol Police.
His message to others: “A simple blood test can save a life.”
To learn more about genetic counseling, please click here.