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A new way of looking at cancer is on its way

10 May 2013 18,053 views One Comment

The progression and evolution of cancer genomics is giving us unprecedented insight into malignancies. Most recently, a paper on acute myeloid leukemia and one on endometrial carcinoma, part of an ambitious project by the National Institutes of Health to scrutinize DNA aberrations in common cancers, have highlighted that cancer will increasingly be seen as a disease defined by its genetic fingerprint rather than by the organ where it originated.

To the surprise of scientists, the most dangerous cancers of the uterine lining closely resemble the worst ovarian and breast cancers, raising the tantalizing possibility that the three deadly cancers might respond to the same drugs. Another finding was that many endometrial cancers had a mutation in a gene that had been seen before only in colon cancers. The mutation disables a system for repairing DNA damage, resulting in 100 times more mutations than typically occur in cancer cells. Indeed, endometrial cancers with the mutation had better outcomes, perhaps because the accumulating DNA damage is devastating to cancer cells.

A new horizon of possibilities is possible for mesothelioma as well, after the recent finding that germline BAP1 mutations predispose to mesothelioma and uveal/cutaneous melanoma. Indeed, finding the connection to BAP1 is the best new discovery in mesothelioma in the last decade, with potential for being a game changer in diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.

These results open a new scenario for the interpretation of cancer, from the way we diagnose it to the way we treat it.

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