Health Team

Family history may improve chances of surviving colon cancer

Posted June 3, 2008 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated June 3, 2008 9:55 p.m. EDT

While a family history of colorectal cancer increases the risk of developing colon cancer, researchers say it may also help save your life.

Doctors at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute studied 1,087 patients with stage 3 colon cancer over eight years, from 1999 to 2007. In that group, 18 percent of the patients had a parent or sibling diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

“The main finding was that patients who had a family member with colon or rectal cancer had improved outcomes,” said Dana-Farber's Dr. Jennifer Chan.

All study patients had stage 3 colorectal cancer, complete surgical resection of the tumor and chemotherapy.

A family history of the disease decreased their chance of recurrence and death by 25 percent.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers said it appears differences in the molecular make-up of the cancer influence patient survival.

“We suspect that the patients may have a genetic trait that affects the biological behavior of the disease and the chance for recurrence,” Chan said.

The study only looked at first-degree relatives, which covers parents and siblings. More studies are needed to fully understand how family history can influence the outcome.

Suzanne Landry, 38, was diagnosed with colon cancer last year. She has a family history of the disease, but she didn't think it would happen to her.

At the moment, Landry is cancer free and hopeful her family history will protect her.

She said the findings are reassuring, but she still worries because of her young son.

“He's 3. He shouldn't have to worry about what's going to happen to his parents,” Landry said.