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Genes Tied to 12 Major Types of Cancer

By Nick Tate   |   Thursday, 17 Oct 2013 03:59 PM

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine have identified genetic mutations that drive the development and progression of a dozen major types of cancer, comprising a range of tumors in the body.

The discovery, published in the journal Nature, paves the way for creating new diagnostic tests to detect cancer early and more personalized treatments.

"This is just the beginning," said researcher Li Ding, of The Genome Institute at Washington University. "Many oncologists and scientists have wondered whether it's possible to come up with a complete list of cancer genes responsible for all human cancers. I think we're getting closer to that."

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The St. Louis researchers identified 127 mutated genes linked to 12 cancers. Some of the same genes involved in certain cancers also occur in unrelated tumors. For example, a defective gene tied to 25 percent of leukemia cases was also found in tumors of the breast, rectum, head and neck, kidney, lung, ovary, and uterus.

The new research analyzed the genes from 3,281 tumors — a collection of cancers of the breast, uterus, head and neck, colon and rectum, bladder, kidney, ovary, lung, brain and blood.

Based on the findings, the researchers envision that a single test that surveys defects in a variety of cancer genes eventually could become a standard way to detect most cancers and drive individualized gene-based therapies.

"Because we now know, for example, that genes mutated in leukemia also can be altered in breast cancer and that genetic errors in lung cancer also can show up in colon and rectal cancer, we think one inclusive diagnostic test that includes all cancer genes would be ideal," Ding said.

"This would provide a more complete picture of what's going on in a tumor, and that information could be used to make decisions about treatment."

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The study was funded, in part, by the National Cancer Institute.

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