Researchers find the DNA secrets of 30 common cancers
Discovery could lead to new treatments for both common and rare forms of cancer
British scientists say they have achieved a "profound" breakthrough in the fight against cancer. Researchers claim that they have unlocked the DNA secrets of 30 of the most common forms of the disease. The discovery could lead to a deeper understanding of their causes, paving the way for new treatments and methods of prevention.
Lead researcher Professor Sir Mike Stratton, who was knighted this summer for his work on cancer genetics, says that although he normally avoided making sweeping claims, he believed the research had brought us closer to understanding cancer.
In the biggest analysis yet of its kind, researchers compared DNA from more than 7,000 cancer patients around the world. Studies included the most common cancers, including breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancers. Mutations in DNA that gather over the course of a person's life result in cancers. These are caused by such things as tobacco in the case of lung or throat cancer, and excess UV light in the case of skin cancer.
Patterns in the genetic code of the tumors were made by these mutations and the analysis of the DNA samples revealed 21 patterns were responsible for 30 cancers.
Many of the causes of several cancers remain unknown. Deciding which food, drink, habit or other external factor causes such changes in the DNA could lead to new ways of preventing the disease.
If a popular food is shown to cause mutations, people could be told to avoid it in the same way as they are advised to stop smoking to cut the odds of lung cancer.
Research into the genetics of cancer could speed the search for new treatments. Some existing drugs might also work better in those whose tumors are caused by particular patterns.
Certain patterns in the DNA of tumors were expected, such as the one caused by smoking. Others provided surprises, including one believed to be caused by a protein that helps us fight infections.
Some of the patterns were only found in one type of cancer, while others, such as the marks left by aging, were found in many different tumors. Every cancer had at least two patterns. But breast cancer had five and liver cancer, six.
Although further research may reveal more patterns - or "mutational signatures," the scientists, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge, believe they have found most of them.
This compendium of mutational signatures and consequent insights into the mutational processes underlying them has profound implications for the understanding of cancer development, with potential applications in disease prevention and treatment," Lead researcher Professor Sir Mike Stratton, who was knighted this summer for his work on cancer genetics, said.
Stratton says that although he normally avoided making sweeping claims, he believed the research had brought us closer to understanding cancer.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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