Ruth had survived numerous primary cancers, most of them life-threatening, when a new oncologist noted a pattern in her medical history and suggested she investigate genetic testing. “Nobody in my mother’s huge family had ever had any kind of cancer, so I had not considered that possibility” Ruth says, “but I knew absolutely nothing about the medical history on my father’s side, so it seemed a very good thing for me to do for my own health—and that of my two children.”
Ruth had genetic counseling and testing with the cancer risk counselors at UCSF. After attending an informational session and filling out a questionnaire, Ruth met with members of the research team and worked with them to provide both tissue samples from her previous cancer surgeries and blood samples. The results of Ruth’s testing confirmed that she had a mutation in a gene that causes Lynch Syndrome, likely inherited from her father’s side of the family, which put her at an increased risk for developing certain types of cancer.
The information provided through genetic testing proved extremely valuable for Ruth’s family. Both of her young adult children underwent testing and subsequent cancer screening, which led to the removal of several precancerous growths in her daughter. In addition, Ruth was able to provide information about her family’s history and potential for increased risk to her two half-siblings from her father’s earlier marriages, who weren’t aware of their shared medical history. “I sent my brother all the information and the protocols, and within days he had started the tests he had been missing,” Ruth says. “Within a couple of weeks he had surgery that saved his life.”
Having now seen firsthand the power of this valuable genetic information, Ruth hopes other families will take action to uncover their own genetic legacy. “Knowledge, a plan, and speed have allowed me to enjoy being a grandmother,” she says. “I would have missed out on that were it not for those tests that got me into surgery fast. Cancer is not a death sentence if you find it in time, so being proactive on behalf of one’s own health makes total sense. Protecting anybody you can from finding it too late by something as simple as sharing genetic information is a blessing.”