US Settlers Spread Rare Cancer Gene

Scientists trace 1630s couple to NY and Utah families
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 7, 2008 6:18 PM CST

(Newser) – Two American settlers braved cross-Atlantic travel in the 1630s with unusual baggage: a genetic mutation that increases the risk of colon cancer 17-fold, the Los Angeles Times reports. Researcher Deborah Neklason traced two cancer-ridden families, one in Utah and one in New York, back to colonists George Frye and his wife—one of whom carried the deadly mutation in a gene called APC.

Descendants of the Utah family—all burdened with a 69% chance of colon cancer by age 80—accounted for 0.15% of colon cancer cases in the state from 1966 to 1995, when the gene was discovered. Only one has had cancer since, seven fewer than the previous pace. "Preventing seven cancers may not sound like much," Neklason said. "But that's seven colon cancers that didn't devastate this family."