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Genetic link to some cancers revealed

The types of cancer with a potential inherited element include stomach cancer, ovarian cancer, and the two genes responsible for breast cancer: BRCA1 and BRCA2. These findings are based on analysis of 4,000 different types of cancer, with data drawn from the U.S. Cancer Genome Atlas project (which is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.) The data looked at germline data (genetic material inherited from both parents.)

Talking with Bioscience Technology, the lead researcher, Dr. Li Ding notes: “this is the first time on a large scale that we’ve been able to pinpoint gene culprits or even the actual mutations responsible for cancer susceptibility.”

Some other types of cancer, such as acute myeloid leukemia and lung cancer, did not have a strong genetic association, with the inference being these are triggered by environmental or lifestyle factors (such as smoking.)

The information should be the launch pad for a new wave of genetic marker tests to help clinicians to assess a person’s potential for developing a given form of cancer or for allowing those deemed to be at risk to be assessed more accurately over time. This is through identifying certain genes that may play a role in the development of tumors. As genetic tests become more advanced they will be able to distinguish between gene mutations that are inherited and those which form during the course of a person’s life.

It should be noted that simply because a gene is present or not, this is not an absolute predictor about whether someone will or will not develop cancer. Often when one gene mutation is inherited from one parent, the gene inherited from another compensates. It is over the course of time that the risk of cancer increases.

Furthermore, even those cancers with a potential inherited link can still occur in people with no indication of a gene mutation. With ovarian cancer, for instance, the research fund that almost 20 percent of cases were probably inherited.

The research was carried out at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications. The research is titled “Patterns and functional implications of rare germline variants across 12 cancer types.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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