Two new studies have revealed that mutations in one location can be responsible for several different, unrelated forms of cancer.
Cancer is not one disease. "Cancer,” when used ambiguously, refers to the 200 known types of cancer and their subtypes. Essentially every tissue in the human body has the potential of turning cancerous.
It seems intuitive that such a wide variety of diseases would have an equally wide variety of genetic causes. However, after studying alliteration sequences from across the cancer genome, a common genetic signature has been found by scientists at the Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. This link has been referred to as the "common genetic needles in an array of cancer haystacks."
Not only does this work contribute to the overall understanding of cancer and provide a unique perspective on causation, but the paper itself is one of the first two that will be used in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), a collaborative effort that will allow researchers to search and analyze the genomes of cancer, increasing productivity in research.
TCGA sequences individual tumors, but there also needs to be a systematic approach to comparing all of the different samples. Josh Stuart, who was not involved with these studies, coordinates a Pan-Cancer Analyses Working Group in TCGA to monitor how tumors are related to one another. These two studies, which have a combine usage of 8, 233 samples of 23 different types of cancer, will provide TCGA with much-needed data points which boost the amount of statistical analysis that can occur.
After sequencing 1.5 million loci in the tumor genome, the team was able to find 35 loci that scientists have known cause tumors. More excitingly, they team found 105 new locations that had previously not been connected with oncogenesis -- an amazing discovery.
The information gained in these studies doesn’t only add to our body of knowledge, but can be used to set the framework for future clinical trials. If researchers better understand how different cancers are related, patients with different types of cancer may be put into the same trial and use the same medication. Treating cancer more efficiently on a broader scale would have fantastic implications.
However, even though cancers may have the same genetic origins, they might not respond the same to medication. While researchers are optimistic, they also acknowledge that there is a tremendous amount of testing necessary to find out for certain.