By Charlotte Libov   |   Wednesday, 02 Aug 2017 03:09 PM

Back when Dr. Henry Lynch earned his medical degree, it was believed that heredity played no role in the development of cancer. But he proved this was wrong, and now, more than 56 years later, he is hailed as the “father of cancer genetics.”

Lynch is as devoted at the age of 89 to the early diagnosis and prevention of cancer as he was when completed his medical training in 1961.

He’s also committed to spreading the word about the Lynch syndrome, the genetic disorder that is named for him.

“According to current estimates, about one million people in the U.S. have Lynch syndrome, and fewer than 5 percent are aware of it,” Lynch tells Newsmax Health.

Heredity is now attributed as the cause of an estimated five-to-10 percent of cancers, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) says.

Back then, though, this wasn’t thought to be the case, says Lynch, a full-time medical professor at the  Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb.

As a young doctor, Lynch had observed a pattern of inherited colorectal cancer in certain families.

Convinced that there was a genetic cause, he diligently worked to document his findings, and then arranged a meeting to present them to National Cancer Institute experts

“Unfortunately, we completely struck out and, when I saw them looking at their watches halfway through my presentation,  I knew I was doomed,” says Lynch.

Eventually, he proved them wrong, and the genetic condition Lynch had discovered is now known as Lynch syndrome.

Although Lynch syndrome is most closely identified with colon cancer, people who inherit it also are faced with increased risk of the disease in the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder ducts, upper urinary tract, brain, and skin.

Women with this disorder face a higher risk of cancer of the ovaries and the endometrium (uterine lining).

Thanks to Lynch, countless lives have been saved through earlier screening tests and stepped up surveillance.

Today, he spends one day a week seeing patients at the Creighton University Hereditary Cancer Center, which he founded 34 years ago.

Here are Lynch’s cancer prevention tips:

  • Do your family medical history. If you spot a pattern of cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you need to see a genetic counselor.
  • Even if you don’t have a genetic predisposition for cancer, be certain to get the cancer screenings recommended for your age and gender. These can help detect sporadic cancers, which arise for no known reason and are the majority of the cases of the disease.
  • Have regular colonoscopies to detect colon cancer.  If you do not have an inherited predisposition to colon cancer, get your first screening between 40 and 50 years old, and have it repeated every five years. This is more stringent than current American Cancer Society guidelines, which call for beginning colon cancer screening at the age of 50 and repeating it every 10 years, but Lynch believes its warranted.
  • Avoid excessive radiation.