Gene study uncovers origins of many common cancers

Researchers in Britain have set out the first comprehensive map of mutational processes behind the development of tumors – work that should in future lead to better ways to treat and prevent a wide range of cancers.

In a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers who analyzed more than 7,000 genomes, or genetic codes, of common forms of cancer uncovered 21 so-called “signatures” of processes that mutate DNA.

The team analyzed the genetic codes of 7,042 cases of cancer in people from around the world, covering 30 different types of the disease, to see if they could find patterns, or signatures, of mutational processes.

They discovered that all the cancers contained two or more signatures – a finding that shows the variety of processes that work together when a cancer develops.

They also found that different cancers have different numbers of mutational processes. While two mutational processes underlie the development of ovarian cancer, there are six behind the development of liver cancer, the researchers said

And some signatures are found in multiple cancer types, while others are only found in one type. Out of the 30 cancers, 25 had signatures from mutational processes linked to ageing.

In a suggestion of what might be behind many common cancers, the team also discovered that a family of enzymes called APOBECs, known to mutate DNA, was linked to more than half of the cancer types studied.

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