The International Cancer Genome Consortium scientists have successfully mapped out the entire genetic code for two of the most common cancers — skin and lung — and are continuing to work on several others:
Scientists around the globe are now working to catalogue all the genes that go wrong in many types of human cancer.
The UK is looking at breast cancer, Japan at liver and India at mouth.
China is studying stomach cancer, and the US is looking at cancers of the brain, ovary and pancreas.
The International Cancer Genome Consortium scientists from the 10 countries involved say it will take them at least five years and many hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete this mammoth task.
But once they have done this, patients will reap the benefits.
Professor Michael Stratton, who is the UK lead, said: “These catalogues are going to change the way we think about individual cancers.
“By identifying all the cancer genes we will be able to develop new drugs that target the specific mutated genes and work out which patients will benefit from these novel treatments.
“We can envisage a time when following the removal of a cancer cataloguing it will become routine.”
It could even be possible to develop MoT-style blood tests for healthy adults that can check for tell-tale DNA patterns suggestive of cancer.
Already they’re learning new things about skin and lung cancer:
The scientists found the DNA code for a skin cancer called melanoma contained more than 30,000 errors almost entirely caused by too much sun exposure.
The lung cancer DNA code had more than 23,000 errors largely triggered by cigarette smoke exposure.
From this, the experts estimate a typical smoker acquires one new mutation for every 15 cigarettes they smoke.
Although many of these mutations will be harmless, some will trigger cancer.
This is some excellent news. It’ll still be awhile before we’ll see any treatments come from this, but it should result in many new avenues for fighting cancer as well as understanding what causes it and how best to avoid it.