Selena Martinez ran the Santa Cruz Half Marathon on April 19th to raise awareness of Lynch syndrome, or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), a genetic condition that greatly increases risk for colorectal and other cancers.
The Santa Cruz was the third of eight half marathons, Martinez plans to run to honor of eight members of her family diagnosed with Lynch syndrome cancers. Sunday’s race was for her sister Noemi Garza who survived colon and endometrial cancer.
Martinez’ website Detect the Mutation provides information about recognizing and testing for Lynch syndrome. She is also raising funds for the University of California at San Francisco’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Program, which offers screenings to those in need.
Selena, a lab specialist at UC San Francisco. told the Mercury News,
We are very lucky to still have my sister. A lot of families don’t get properly diagnosed. I just thought, this is not acceptable. I’m a scientist, I have to do something.
In the last fourteen years, eight members of the Martinez family have been diagnosed with ten different Lynch-related cancers: five colon, two endometrial, two gastric, and one pancreatic.
Lynch syndrome is caused by an inherited mutation in one of several genes that repair DNA errors that occur during cell division. Normally such mistakes are either fixed or cells with errors are destroyed by the body itself to prevent cancer developing.
Patients with Lynch syndrome are at a very high lifetime risk for colorectal cancer. Women also have a high risk for uterine and ovarian cancer. Risk is increased for other cancers of the stomach, small intestine, pancreas, kidney, brain, and skin.
Lynch cancers occur much earlier than normal, with risk beginning in the early twenties, and develop rapidly. Early and frequent screenings for colorectal, uterine, and ovarian cancer are critical to detecting polyps or cancer when they can be treated successfully. Genetic counseling and testing is available for families who might carry the gene.
Thus far Martinez has participated in three half marathons, one for her father, Nazarío P. Martínez, Jr. and and anotherr for her Uncle Juan P. Martínez in addition to the Santa Cruz Half in honor of her sister, Noemí Martínez Garza.