Recognising Cancer: Genetic Signs can Appear Decades Before Diagnosis

Posted on 10 February 2020

Cancer is not due to a single genetic mutation, resulting instead from a process of evolution. Starting with just a few chance genetic changes, selective pressure will eventually result in thousands of mutations that contribute to the tumour’s malignancy.

The Hallmarks of Cancer: the main pathways that increase malignancy.

By the time cancer has been diagnosed, many mutations have already occurred, yet a study published in Nature suggests that the earliest mutations occur far earlier than expected. Researchers analysed over 2500 cancers using whole-genome sequencing, and studied the timing of the early driving mutations. Not only did such mutations often precede diagnosis by years, half of the earliest changes also occurred in just 9 genes.

These findings are of interest, as it may be possible in the future to screen for these genetic changes: by examining free DNA in the blood, for example, in order to identify the early seeds of cancer.


The evolutionary history of 2,658 cancers:

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