Gene ‘typos’ identify cancer risk
A large study by researchers at the University of Cambridge and The Institute of Cancer Research in London has identified more than 80 genome variations that could increase a person’s risk of developing ovarian, prostate and breast cancer.
The body of research, dubbed the Collaborative Oncological Gene-Environment Study (COGS), focused on a specific kind of genetic variation called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP). Most people inherit at least a few of these SNP variations, which researchers call a genetic ‘typo.’ But how they affect each person depends on where in the DNA strand the SNPs are found and how frequently they occur.
The study examined and compared the DNA of more than 100,000 cancer patients and an additional 100,000 patients from the general population. They found that every DNA alteration slightly increased the person’s risk for cancer, but people with several SNP variations had nearly a 30 percent increased risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent increased risk of prostate cancer. The SNP variations that carried the most risk were located near the areas of the genome that control gene behavior.
The research identified 49 SNPs associated with breast cancer, 23 SNPs associated with prostate cancer and 11 associated with ovarian cancer.
As illuminating as the findings are, they are not conclusive enough to necessarily predict a person’s risk of cancer based on their gene variations alone. However, the research authors remain optimistic, noting that “the identification of genetic variants that are associated with cancer risks will give us important insights into the basic biology of cancer that may lead to the development of new therapies or better ways to target existing therapies.”