Geralyn - Canadian Cancer Society
Benefitted from a discovery made by a Canadian Cancer Society funded researcher
It was a relatively simple blood test that changed Geralyn Hansford’s life. In 2005, the test showed that she carried the genetic mutation for one of the deadliest types of stomach cancer.
Geralyn was devastated and made the only choice that would save her life. She had her stomach completely removed.
Today, the St. John’s, Newfoundland resident is healthy, vibrant and inspires others with her very active life, which encompasses her job, her family and her community.
Across the country in British Columbia, it was research carried out by Dr. David Huntsman and his team that helped to solve the genetic mystery of this rare, hereditary stomach cancer called diffuse gastric cancer. With funding from the Canadian Cancer Society, Dr. Huntsman’s lab identified several genetic mutations responsible for the disease. Using this information, they developed a DNA-based blood test to find out if people from families with a history of this disease were likely to develop it themselves.
Individuals who do carry the mutation have a 70 per cent chance of dying of the disease. As a preventive measure, many will have their stomachs completely removed.
“I am a walking example of what cancer research does,” says Geralyn.
Other family members are also benefiting from this life-saving research. The blood test has shown that her mother and brother, and a half-dozen other relatives have the gene. Each has decided to have their stomachs removed
Sadly, Geralyn’s younger sister died of gastric diffuse cancer in 2002. In fact, it was the numerous cancers on her mother’s side of the family, in addition to her sister’s diagnosis, that prompted her to start asking the questions that led her to the cancer-predicting test.
“Dr. Huntsman and his team found something through research that allowed me to make a proactive choice. Arleen would have loved to have had that choice,” says Geralyn.
Dr. Huntsman is now trying to determine if special screening programs are needed for patients with this mutated gene. His research will focus primarily on families in Newfoundland, where the rate of stomach cancer is almost two times higher than in the rest of Canada. Dr. Huntsman’s research team believes the genetic mutation might be the reason.
“It’s been both humbling and inspiring to work with these extremely courageous families who have dealt with this dread for generations,” says Dr. Huntsman. “What we’re doing is giving them the tools to face down their fear.”
Canadian Cancer Society