THE BLOG

What Can A Family Tree Teach Us About Pediatric Cancer?

Through the SJFAMILY study, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is building a registry to find new cancer predisposition genes and help better understand familial cancers.

09/28/2017 09:04 EDT | Updated 09/28/2017 14:51 EDT
Seth Dixon
Some St. Jude patients, like Janilef Barranco Vazquez, will benefit from the information in their cancer predisposition screenings. Kim Nichols, Ph.D., and her team of genetic counselors are available to provide consultation for patients and family.

Imagine if both of your children at ages 9 and 12 were diagnosed with the exact same cancer one year apart. For the Carter family, this extremely rare scenario became a reality.

Haley Carter was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, after discovering a bump on her left shin. During her final rounds of chemotherapy, her brother, Austin, began complaining about his knee. Following a sports physical, doctors discovered he had the same cancer as Haley.

Both children turned to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for treatment to put their cancer into remission.

I am happy to say that today both Austin and Haley are cancer free and are thriving college students at Missouri State University.

But the question remained of why two siblings were found to have the same cancer within the same year. Their results came back as inconclusive even after genetic testing. Did cancer run in the Carter family?

Our goal is that we can use the information from the Carters and families like these across America to gather more data to help us crack the genetic code that leads to familial cancers.

Through our cancer predisposition research, St. Jude investigators have shown that nearly 1 in 10 children with cancer has a genetic bias towards developing cancer.

The clues for understanding cancer predisposition are hidden within the genetic code of every human cell.

Now we have the technology to precisely sequence, or read, all the genetic information in a person’s body. And we can do it from a simple blood sample.

This advancement in science and the hope of helping other families led the Carters to take part in a new groundbreaking study at St. Jude.

The SJFAMILY study is one of the most comprehensive genomic evaluations to date of families with a cancer history.

Through SJFAMILY, we collect and store samples and health information to study and learn about familial cancers—ones that occur in families more often than expected by coincidence.

By reading the genetic code and using advanced computational biology methods from family members who do or do not have cancer, we can compare the information and identify genetic changes that are unique to those with cancer. This helps us find clues to the causes of cancer, especially when it appears to run in families.

Our genetic makeup can reveal changes in DNA that give clues for how diseases like cancer may develop.

When we understand how those changes place individuals at risk for cancer, we are able to use this information to develop new ways to predict whether cancer will occur, to treat cancer or even to prevent it from happening.

Genetic information can also help us to identify other family members who might also be at risk for cancer.

You, a family member or someone you know can help us solve the cancer riddle.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with childhood cancer and who also has a close relative diagnosed with any cancer before age 50, can join our study to help find those answers.

Our goal is to identify more cancer predisposition genes that can help scientists identify cancer signals earlier and help monitor individuals affected by changes in these genes.

For more details on how you or someone you know can take part, visit stjude.org/sjfamily.

By Dr. Kim Nichols