Early signs of cancer can appear years or even decades before diagnosis, according to the most comprehensive investigation to date of the genetic mutations that cause healthy cells to turn malignant. From a report:
The findings, based on samples from more than 2,500 tumours and 38 cancer types, reveal a longer-than-expected window of opportunity in which patients could potentially be tested and treated at the earliest stages of the disease. The work was carried out as part of the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes project, the most comprehensive study of cancer genetics to date.
“What’s extraordinary is how some of the genetic changes appear to have occurred many years before diagnosis, long before any other signs that a cancer may develop, and perhaps even in apparently normal tissue,” said Clemency Jolly, a co-author of the research based at the Francis Crick Institute in London.
“Unlocking these patterns means it should now be possible to develop new diagnostic tests that pick up signs of cancer much earlier,” said Peter Van Loo, co-lead author, also of the Crick Institute. “There is a window of opportunity.”