Henry T. Lynch, MD, came from a humble background, growing up in a rough neighborhood in New York City. He enlisted in the Navy and served in the South Pacific during World War II. Afterward, Dr. Lynch focused his efforts on completing his education, which eventually lead him to the medical field.
After obtaining his high-school equivalency, and completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Oklahoma and his master’s degree in clinical psychology at the University of Denver, his path turned toward the field in which he would make his thrilling and unprecedented discoveries. He studied for a PhD in human genetics at the University of Texas at Austin and received his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. He completed his internship at St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville, Indiana, and his residency in internal medicine at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine. His first faculty appointment was at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
In 1967, he accepted a position at Creighton, in Omaha, Neb., where he would spend the rest of his storied career. Dr. Lynch was a professor at Creighton University School of Medicine, and the founder and director of the Hereditary Cancer Center at Creighton, established in 1984. He served as chair of the institution’s Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, and was named the inaugural holder of the Charles F. and Mary C. Heider Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at Creighton.
A patient he encountered in 1962 – an alcoholic that drank because he believed he would die of colon cancer since everyone in his family had – was the catalyst for his groundbreaking work into the possibility of a hereditary component to some forms of cancer. During this time, it was understood that carcinogenic chemicals and viruses were the primary cause of cancer.
Dr. Lynch provided the first complete description of hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, a form of colon cancer eventually renamed Lynch syndrome. He continued his research, eventually identifying a hereditary form of breast and ovarian cancers, melanoma, and prostate and pancreatic cancers. His efforts also resulted in one of the world’s largest databases of family cancer histories.
Dr. Lynch passed away on June 2, 2019, at the age of 91. AGA members are sharing their stories and the impact Dr. Lynch had on their work in the AGA Community.
Lucas Franki contributed to this report.