Surgical Corrections for Bad Genes: No Stomach for This?

 

Medical advances are sometimes pretty amazing, and people’s reaction to them can be equally so.  There are eleven people in the same family (cousins, siblings, etc.) who’ve elected to have their stomachs removed because they are at genetic risk for a very serious and deadly form of stomach cancer.  With seemingly normal stomachs, these people all chose to have their stomachs surgically removed to eliminate the risk (reportedly as high as 75%) of this particular cancer. 

Stomach removal is a pretty serious decision to make, but it seems somewhat understandable if facing the near certainty of a painful and protracted early death.  Finding the genetic mutation in this family, scientists tested 19 members, and 12 of them had the mutation and 11 of them had the surgery.  They are all doing fine at this time.  The surgery, paid partially or in full by insurance, costs $65,000 to $85,000, and completely eliminates the possibility of contracting stomach cancer (obviously).

Unable to eat many foods or to eat much at one sitting, stomach removal patients lose a great deal of weight and do need to ensure they are getting enough nutrients, etc. that can no longer be absorbed through the stomach.  Foods are not softened or broken down, these are functions of the stomach, so diet changes sometimes drastically and lifestyle is affected by the need for frequent small meals and nutritional supplements for life.   Obviously, these family members decided that these were small prices to pay not to succumb to the same disease that had killed so many of their relatives.

Through the years I’ve heard of people having various healthy reproductive organs (ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, even testicles) removed due to a strong family history of certain cancers; I also saw a show in which a woman had elected to have a double mastectemy of her then healthy breasts because so many women in her family had died of breast cancer.

With advances in technology, we may all one day have access to genetic screening that would alert us to potential life threatening cancer.  One might hope that by that time there is another alternative to removing the offending organ, but if not, I wonder what I or you would do in such a situation. 

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The stomach removal story from a variety of news pages:  http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,71190-0.html?tw=wn_index_7 and http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/sun/2006/may/25/566612045.html?Mike… and http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2006-06-18-stomach_x.htm

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9 thoughts on “Surgical Corrections for Bad Genes: No Stomach for This?

  1. I read this article too and was just amazed at the number of family members that had their stomach removed on the what if theory. I don’t know, I tend to think I would probably be a “wait till the last minute” type person. The article does indicate that the stomach was replaced with a “stand in” so to speak, so maybe that is not to bad. One could die of any number of reasons…Fuzzy, do you think it is good to anticipate your method of death? Just wondering your opinion on that. 🙂

  2. I saw this on the Today show. It was very interesting. They say that stomach cancer is very deadly as you don’t have symptoms until it is to late. I would like to think I would do anything I could to prolong my life. So yes I think I would have this type of surgery and any other.
    They said on the today show that between the 11 people they have lost 600+ pounds.

  3. Since the symptoms of stomach cancer are pretty ordinary – and knowing there was a 70% chance that I’d get it, I think I’d rather have the operation and know I was safe rather than worry myself sick just watching for the symptoms to appear and hoping I caught them in time.

  4. I don’t know what i would do … honestly…no, wait, I think I would have the surgery if that many of my family members had died from it already.

  5. Oooh, good question, Scarlett, and my immediate response is “Hell no, that way lies madness!” I’d be constantly worried that this or that was a symptom of whatever it was I knew would kill me, but as Em says, stomach cancer symptoms are rather ordinary (heart burn, nausea, vomiting), I’d think twice about that one. However, if I knew it was very likely I’d get that form of cancer, I’d be pretty vigilant about such symptoms and may opt to go for early treatment (apparently it’s very treatable early, just hard to detect). I don’t know, Scarlett, it’s probably not good in terms of stress and worry (which contribute to poor health) to anticipate death. And if I were younger, I’d certainly have to think long and hard about having any reproductive organs removed in anticipation of future cancers. It’s a tough call, really, and I would have to do some major research and talk to a few specialists before I made a decision one way or the other. My family members tend to die of heart attack and stroke, but I can’t have my heart or brain removed, so it’s not something I anticipate having to give much thought.

  6. Ther are so many test that can be done any more to check and see if a person has the gene that would give person cancer. I used to have cancer cells on my papa tests every time i wenttot the doctor. I was very young, 18-around 24. Every time i would have to have a D n C, ouchy that hurts. I would not have had my uterouse removed at that point if it had been an option. I would make sure all the tests had been done, that I knew for sure i was definatly gonna get stomach cancer, or any other cancer for that matter. I wouldnt let a doctor take my parts again, unless i knew for sure i would die without the surgery.I had a hysterectomy, it was a necessary operation. Given the choice of having a period and and my parts back, healthy, I would want my healthy parts back. People are too quick to chop something off, just in case it might happen.

  7. I agree, Spartonmom. But I do think in the stomach removal cases, there was the surety of getting the cancer in question . . . in that case, it’s a tough call. But being too quick to chop something off or cut something out just in case is a cause for concern, I think. Cosmetic surgery is elective, are we going to start having elective organ removal, too? Cripes, what would that do to health care costs and insurance premiums and coverage?

  8. BBB, My family has a history of breast cancer. My Great grandmother, My Nana, my mother and her sister all had breast cancer. And with a huge degree of certainy I can say I would not have the op! Certainoy I am more robust about check ups but I also breast feed my two children and the other members of my family did not so I feel I have that on my side! I think it is putting the cart before the horse…but everyone is different with their own opinions and reasons.

  9. Definitely do your self exams, Amber! That is something you definitely need to keep up with . . . are you doing annual mamograms? If not, I will fly, boat, swim, whatever I have to do to get over there and drag you physically to the radiologist! I’m not kidding, don’t even try me on this one. Catching it as early as possible is the best way to survive it (before it metastasizes (sp?)). But I have heard that breastfeeding makes a difference, too, so that’s awesome.

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