Introduction: Lynch syndrome was first described in the 1950s however until recently it was rarely included in medical school curricula. As a result, many practicing physicians have limited exposure, potentially contributing to significant under diagnosis. As identification of Lynch syndrome prior to malignancy allows for intensified screening, prophylactic surgery and improved patient outcomes, all physicians should be aware of the characteristics of affected families. We aim to determine the overall level of awareness of Lynch syndrome among medical students at an American medical school.
Methods: A voluntary and anonymous questionnaire was delivered to students at an American medical school. The survey instrument assessed the respondent's perceived knowledge regarding the genetics and recommended screening for carriers of Lynch syndrome mutations.
Results: The questionnaire was distributed to the entire student body (405 students) with a response rate of 50%. Fiftynine percent of students reported that they had learned about Lynch syndrome; 27% of first year students, 44% of second year students; 90% of third year students and 100% of fourth year students. Of the students familiar with Lynch syndrome, the reported knowledge of the underlying genetics was 46%, available genetic screening, 18%, criteria used to screen for the syndrome, 24%, recommendations for colon screening, 31% and recommendations for endometrial cancer screening, 17%.
Conclusion: The majority of medical students surveyed had been exposed to Lynch syndrome and awareness increased over each year of education. Significantly more students were aware of recommendations for colon cancer screening than endometrial cancer screening (32% versus 17%, p = 0.01). Studies of the natural history of Lynch syndrome indicate that affected women are more likely to present with endometrial cancer than colon cancer and while there are no prospective data proving the efficacy of endometrial cancer screening in this high-risk population, the endometrium is easily accessible and can be sampled using simple office techniques. In addition, prophylactic hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy are reasonable risk reducing interventions for the prevention of both uterine and ovarian cancer. Our findings suggest that increased emphasis must be placed on teaching the gynecologic manifestations of Lynch Syndrome in order to avoid the misconception that it is simply a colon cancer syndrome.
Keywords: Hereditary cancer, lynch syndrome, medical education, medical student, screening, colon screening, endometrial cancer screening, prophylactic hysterectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, ovarian cancer