Marc's parents brought him to a pediatric endocrinologist, who diagnosed growth hormone deficiency. The endocrinologist suggested the teen might be a candidate for human growth hormone (HGH) treatment. But before moving forward, Marc's family history needed to be considered along with his personal medical history.
Jerry Myers, Marc's father, had been diagnosed and treated for colon cancer in 2001. Testing at the University of Chicago's Cancer Risk Clinic revealed that he had a hereditary colon cancer syndrome and carried the genetic mutation HNPCC. The risk of passing the mutation on to each offspring is 50%.
The dilemma faced by the family and the doctors: HGH can be procarcinogenic (linked with causing cancer). It accelerates cell division, and in the case of colon cancer cells, it has been shown to promote their growth. If Marc carried the same genetic mutation as his father, treating him with HGH could prove detrimental.
"We had a decision to make and there were life-altering consequences on either side of that decision," says Suzanne Lee, Marc's mother. "We needed to know if the medical and social benefits of taking HGH outweighed the possible risk of colon cancer."
The search for more information brought the Myers family to the University of Chicago Medicine Familial Cancer Clinic. The clinic is the pediatric component of the University of Chicago's Cancer Risk Clinic, where Jerry Myers had been tested five years earlier.
Under the direction of hematologist/oncologist Kenan Onel, MD, PhD, the Familial Cancer Clinic's research program focuses on the genetic basis of cancer and on the variations in genetic makeup that contribute to cancer risk. This research is tied directly to patient care.
"Dr. Onel was uniquely able to understand all the different issues in our very complicated situation," says Marc's mother. "He had all the components: expertise in hereditary disease, pediatrics, and cancer. The first time Dr. Onel talked to us, he picked up right away on what we needed. It was a life-changing phone call."
The family worked with the team of doctors, nurses, and genetic counselors to reach the decision to test the teen for the HNPCC mutation.
"We decided that Marc's situation was compelling enough to warrant genetic testing at an early age," says Dr. Onel. "We were able to give the family good news. The blood test revealed that Marc did not inherit the mutation that leads to colon cancer."