The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Special Report But for Ohio State Campaign

Spearheading cancer screenings

‘Ohio State cannot be in a better position to try to help ...’ — Researcher Heather Hampel

Heather Hampel

Heather Hampel ’93 knew that a genetic test for Lynch syndrome could extend the lives of people with colorectal cancer and save many of their family members.

That’s because she and her fellow researchers had tested colon cancer patients from 1999 to 2005 and found that one in 35 had Lynch syndrome. About 44 percent of their relatives who underwent testing had the mutated gene as well.

Lynch syndrome is an inherited condition that greatly increases a person’s risk of colon cancer. The good news: By learning they had Lynch syndrome earlier, people could schedule screenings long before cancer had a chance to attack.

Based on their findings, Hampel and her colleagues wanted to start testing colon cancer patients for Lynch syndrome statewide. But the National Cancer Institute, which funded the first study, declined to pay for additional testing because it felt the Columbus study proved the point. Other funders also passed.

“It was like pushing a big boulder uphill,” she said.

The load was lightened in 2013 when Hampel and a team of investigators from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, including her research associate, Rachel Pearlman, were awarded a grant made possible by Ohio State’s annual Pelotonia bike tour. The pair used the funds to create the Ohio Colorectal Cancer Prevention Initiative, a partnership of 51 hospitals that has facilitated the testing of more than 3,000 colon cancer patients.

“Our statewide coalition shows that we can work together, so everyone can implement this, not just big academic medical centers,” Hampel said. “To date, 93 of our patients have discovered they have Lynch syndrome, and 114 family members have learned they have the gene mutation — well before developing any signs of cancer.”

Family members who test positive for Lynch syndrome will get more proactive screenings, increasing the likelihood of early detection.

Cancer patients with Lynch syndrome also will benefit. Since they have a 30 percent chance of getting a second type of cancer, more frequent screenings can extend their lives.

In early September, a National Cancer Institute blue-ribbon panel proposed a nationwide project to screen all colorectal and endometrial cancer patients for Lynch syndrome.

“This is so exciting because Ohio State cannot be in a better position to try to help with that,” Hampel said. “Having done this in the city of Columbus and the state of Ohio, I can’t imagine anyone else with more experience that’s better positioned to help expand this to the entire United States.”

Pelotonia riders can take pride in the fact that every dollar they raise — more than $106 million since the bike tour began in 2008 — goes to cancer research at Ohio State. So far, 89 research teams have embarked on projects and 399 students have received research fellowships.