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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Family lose stomachs to beat cancer
Five members of the same family went under the knife
Five healthy members of the same family have all had their stomachs cut out in an attempt to stop them getting a rare form of cancer.

The drastic action was recommended by doctors because they all had a severe genetic mutation which made developing the disease very likely.

Natasha Benn, 32, from Canada, made the desperate decision after watching her twin sister Nicola die from stomach cancer.

Her older sister, and three other family members followed suit.

And each of their decisions was proved correct when doctors closely examined the removed organs.

Small numbers of malignant cells were found growing in all five stomachs.

If left untreated, they would all have probably developed "diffuse gastric cancers".

This takes the form of not simply a single tumour, but dozens of separate small growths,

Symptoms of the illness often do not emerge until the disease is well advanced, and few sufferers are cured by chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

Small meals

The loss of the stomach has a pronounced impact on the lives of the family members.

Natasha can now only eat small meals, and is restricted to a special diet.

The operation involves removing the entire stomach and part of the small intestine beneath it.

A smaller, replacement stomach is fabricated from a loop of the main bowel, so that food can be digested after a fashion.

Each of the five, aged between 22 and 40, who underwent the operation had a mutation of the E-cadherin (CDH1) gene.

Dr David Huntsman, of the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver, said: "We all lost a lot of sleep before Natasha had her surgery because she was a young healthy woman undergoing a major operation on the basis of our genetic testing results."

The operations were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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17 Mar 00 | C-D
Stomach cancer
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