Tyler Cook

Research breakthrough helps prevent cancer

Tyler Cook
This research saved my life and my sister’s life. Without it, stomach cancer would have wiped out most of our family.

Tyler Cook’s mother had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in her early 30s. His sister Jennifer was then diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer when she was 31. Doctors told Tyler, a 32-year-old husband and father from Sudbury, that the stomach cancer was likely genetic.

Dr David Huntsman, a researcher at the British Columbia Cancer Agency, had just developed a DNA-based blood test that identifies the genetic cause of hereditary diffuse stomach cancer – a disease that is often diagnosed at very late stages when it is not treatable. With funding from the Canadian Cancer Society, Dr Huntsman studied more than 80 families with the disease. He discovered a number of genetic mutations that greatly increased their risk. Those individuals found to carry a mutation have the option of surgery to remove their stomachs. While the step is a drastic one, it can reduce their chance of dying from the disease from 70% to less than 1%.

Tyler and his sister Shelley chose to be tested and discovered they both carried the mutation, as did other extended family members. “After seeing what my mother and sister went through, deciding to have the surgery was a no-brainer,” says Tyler. He had the surgery nearly 4 years ago and doctors detected several small tumours in his stomach tissue, as they did with Shelley. “We’re so thankful. We both know that we wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t had the genetic test and the surgery.”

Today, the test Dr Huntsman developed is used nationally and internationally. “Stomach removal has already proved successful in preventing stomach cancer in more than 100 people with the genetic mutations. It’s inspiring to meet these courageous families and see how our research is helping them deal with a disease that’s been a source of dread for generations,” says Dr Huntsman.

Tyler has adjusted well to life after having his stomach removed. “It turned out better than I expected. I eat smaller portions, about 5 or 6 times a day, and my life is pretty much back to normal,” says Tyler, who now volunteers with the Canadian Cancer Society. “This research saved my life and my sister’s life. Without it, stomach cancer would have wiped out most of our family.”