Did The Pilgrims Carry Colon Cancer?

Mayflower II, reproduction of ship that brought Pilgrims to the new world
Colon cancer's family tree may date back to Pilgrim days, and that lineage may help save lives in the U.S. today.

University of Utah researchers have tracked a gene mutation linked to colon cancer risk back to an English couple that sailed to colonial America before 1640.

The couple -- whose names aren't published in the researchers' report -- were born in England in the 1590s, married in 1615, and arrived in America with at least two children "some time before 1640," write Deborah Neklason,
PhD, and colleagues.

Many generations later, that couple has thousands of descendants. For instance, more than 5,200 people living in Utah today are related to that couple, and many more North American families may share that heritage.

The gene glitch in question makes polyps -- colorectal growths that may or may not become cancerous -- more likely at a younger age, before colon cancer typically starts.

Neklason's team suggests that "genetic testing should be considered" for people with a family history
of 10 or more colon polyps .

An aggressive education and clinical intervention program among the couple's Utah descendants may have prevented seven colon cancers, according to Neklason.

"Preventing seven cancers may not sound like much," Neklason says in a University of Utah news release. "But that's seven colon cancers that didn't devastate this family."

Neklason's report appears in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

No matter where your family comes from, cancer experts recommend starting colorectal cancer screening at age 50, or sooner for high-risk patients

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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