Breakthrough in cancer detection

SCIENTISTS have claimed a breakthrough in the early detection of cancer by highlighting concoctions of harmless genes which if found together become dangerous.

The work is focused on breast cancer and brings forward understanding on how certain genes can heighten the risk of women getting breast cancer.

In a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine researchers from Cambridge University offered an explanation for the cause of 80% of genetic related breast cancer tumours.

Professor Bruce Ponder, director of Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute and author of the paper said until now two rogue genes were known to cause cancer.

However, scientists had been unable to account for breast cancers which appeared to be genetic but not related to recognised abnormalities.

“In this research we have found about five new genes which contribute to the risk of breast cancer. Previously there were two of these genes known which were pretty uncommon and had pretty strong effects.

“What is different about the research we have done [is] we are just finding the first ones of what we think will be quite a large number of genes which individually have quite modest affects on risk but when combined together the affect can be quite substantial,” Prof Ponder said.

It is already known that one in approximately 250 women carry the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes which are known to increase the probability of developing breast cancer.

Prof Ponder said genetic testing was focused on these well-known genes — like separating aces in a deck of cards.

He said the new development looks at how genes work together and become more dangerous because of the sum of their parts.

“Some women will get a hand of cards with not such good genes in respect to breast cancer and it is that hand of cards or genes that will determine their breast cancer risk,” he said.

The team said it would be relatively straightforward to test women for these genes with routine tests on their saliva.

But the team said it will be another decade before it has isolated more than 10 of these genes and can understand exactly how they interact.

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