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Cancer Genetics

Peace of Mind, Father`s Death

11/02/2009

Question:

I want to start by thanking you for your time. Here is my history/question.

My father died at age 47 after 14 months of being diagnosed with Cancer. I was in college and my Mom can’t recall all the facts as to specifically the type. The death certificate stated “clear cell metastic carcinoma.”

Here is what my Mom and I can speak on:

He went in after he noticed a lump just below his hairline on back of his neck and subclavicular lymph swollen and persistent cough for 3 months.

When they diagnosised him they said it was in chest, neck (lymph node subclavicular very swollen) abdomen, and lower abdomen.

He started smoking at age 15, cigarettes then went to a pipe at age 30.

He worked in an environment for number of years where there was 2nd hand smoke as well.

He did inhale his pipe as well which I know is something pipe smokers say they don’t. He smoked it regularly safely saying approx 8 - 10x’s a day

He had no other health problems leading to his diagnosis.

I am an only child (40 yr old male) and of good health other than depression that comes from thinking about my fathers fate is also mine.

I have a number of relatives that smoke both on my mothers and fathers side with no other Cancers.

I have never smoked, don’t work around 2nd hand smoke, and fortunately, my father did not smoke around me or my mother.

Mother is in good health but for diabetes that runs on both sides.

I am worried that since he died at a young age that is a problem for me in that I might have a gene mutation?

The chart notes have since been destroyed and I am looking for information to help me put closure to this?

I know an absolute answer is not possible, but the internet is a tangled web and looking to an expert than actually place some of the pieces of the puzzle in appropriate context.

Answer:

Without further information about the specific kind of cancer your father had, it is very difficult to give you a precise answer.  In general, cancers occur at earlier ages in people with hereditary cancer susceptibily than in people with sporadic cancer, and your father was certainly young when he was diagnosed with cancer.  However, in hereditary cancer families there are usually a number of family members in multiple generations diagnosed with cancers at early ages.

Based on your father's smoking habit, I assume you believe he had lung cancer initially that then metastasized to other organs.  If he did have lung cancer, and if it was caused by smoking, the fact that you do not smoke and have not been exposed to second-hand smoke will lower your chance to develop lung cancer.  And lung cancer is not a common cancer in the hereditary cancer syndromes.

As for your depression, I encourage you to seek additional support either through a local cancer support agency or with a social worker or therapist.  Losing a parent to cancer can be very difficult, and sometimes the effects can be long-lasting.  There are a number of resources that might be very helpful for you.

For more information:

Go to the Cancer Genetics health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Duane D Culler, PhD, MS Duane D Culler, PhD, MS
Clinical Instructor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University