Dr. Henry Lynch, 91, Dies; Found Hereditary Link in Cancer


Dr. Olopade met Dr. Lynch in Omaha in 1992, when she wanted to search for breast cancer genes. Dr. Lynch offered his data.

“That day stood out in my memory,” she said. “He gave me every questionnaire, every consent.”

Dr. Judy Garber, chief of the division of cancer genetics and prevention at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said Dr. Lynch had helped her, too. “He was among the most decent people in academics,” she said.

Cancer researchers now estimate that 5 to 10 percent of cancers are inherited. Hereditary cancer syndromes, like the ones Dr. Lynch investigated, include gene mutations that predispose some to more common cancers.

One form of hereditary cancer is often called Lynch syndrome (it is also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC) because Dr. Lynch first identified families in which it occurs. People with Lynch syndrome have a higher risk of certain types of cancer.

Dr. Lynch liked to tell the story of how he got interested in cancer genetics:

When he was a medical resident, he saw a patient who was dying of colon cancer. The man began telling Dr. Lynch about all the other people in his family who had had cancer. Intrigued, Dr. Lynch applied for a research grant from the National Institutes of Health, hoping to show that colon cancer could be hereditary. He was turned down.

Undaunted, he persisted, collecting pedigrees, drawing family trees and eventually getting research grants. He mostly counseled cancer patients, advising them rather than directly caring for them, his son said.

Henry Thompson Lynch was born on Jan. 4, 1928, in Lawrence, Mass., to Henry and Eleanor Lynch. He grew up poor on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His father, a salesman, lost his job in the Depression, and his mother was a secretary.

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