Genetics Are Half the Cancer Story

Brain cancer in children dependent on genes and original cell

(RxWiki News) Genetics gets a lot of press, but sometimes the old fashioned biopsy is the only way to get the information you need.

Researchers from Sweden's Uppsala University identified an important aspect of pediatric brain cancer, finding that even when cells were given the same cancer-causing genetic mutation, the tumor did not always turn out the same way.

"Ask your oncologist about genetic profiling."

While this approach may not take into account the influences of different genes in different cells, the distinction is an important one.

The fact that not all genes are active in all cells is an important part of how complex life evolved.

"We can't focus exclusively on mutated genes when looking at cancer," says Fredrik Swartling, PhD.

"The status of the cells of origin giving rise to cancer is at least as important from a treatment standpoint. Our study shows that tumours contain markers for these cells of origin."

If this research proves to be the case, then the future job of oncologists becomes even more complicated. Once genetics have been established for a cancer, the place of origin also has to be determined.

This would more than double the amount of testing that needs to be done for each type of cancer, the work doubling again every time a cancer drug was developed.

"The goal is to develop a range of different treatments for patients of different types," Swartling says. "It may take some time before such treatments are available at hospitals, but clinical trials involving drugs similar to those used in the study are already under way, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that the drugs will work as anticipated."

The study was published on May 14, 2012 in the journal Cancer Cell.

Research was supported primarily by the Swedish Cancer Society, Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation, and the Swedish Research Council.

Review Date: 
May 15, 2012