More than a thousand scientists have built the most detailed picture of cancer ever in a landmark study. They said cancer was like a 100,000-piece jigsaw, and that until today, 99% of the pieces were missing. Their studies, published in the journal Nature, provide an almost complete picture of all cancers. They could allow treatment to be tailored to each patient’s unique tumor, or develop ways of finding cancer earlier. The Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes Consortium analyzed the whole genetic code of 2,658 cancers.
The project found people’s cancers contain, on average, between four and five fundamental mutations that drive a cancer’s growth. These are potential weak-spots that can be exploited with treatments that attack these “driver mutations.” However, 5% of cancers appear to have no driver mutations at all, showing there is still more work to do. Scientists also developed a way of “carbon dating” mutations. They showed that more than a fifth of them occurred years or even decades before a cancer is found.
“We’ve developed the first timelines of genetic mutations across the spectrum of cancer types,” said Dr Peter Van Loo from the Francis Crick Institute. He added: “Unlocking these patterns means it should now be possible to develop new diagnostic tests, that pick up signs of cancer much earlier.”
Further reading: Science Magazine