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Published in Medical History, 2006, 50: 279–302.


When Henry T Lynch thought that he had discovered the existence of hereditary cancers among Nebraskan families in the 1960s, his hope was that it would lead to more effective means of cancer control. Lynch argued that the identification of such cancers offered tremendous opportunities for improving detection and treatment. If cancer ran in families, he claimed, the discovery of a hereditary cancer in one family member should be an alert to the possibility of cancer in others, and so prompt careful scrutiny for any signs that might indicate the presence of the disease in ‘‘healthy’’ individuals. Lynch hoped that by targeting cancer families it would be possible to catch more cancers at an earlier stage than was hitherto possible. Cancers caught early were often curable, the American Cancer Society (ACS) claimed.

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