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Cancer Genomics

growth of a cancer cellCancer isn’t just one disease. It’s a family of hundreds of genomic diseases that all result in out-of-control cell growth. And stopping the rapid growth of these cancer cells is a complicated challenge.

For many years, the standard treatment for cancer meant surgery, radiation, and a “one-size-fits-all” drug treatment. But this “one-size-fits-all” approach didn’t work for many cancers. Genomic medicine is the newest weapon in the cancer treatment toolkit. In fact, cancer patients are among the early clinical beneficiaries of genomics.

Sixty-eight of the tumor genes identified in ovarian cancers respond to existing anti-cancer drugs.

By comparing the genomes from a patient’s normal cells with their cancer/tumor cells, medical researchers are obtaining never-before-seen snapshots of the specific DNA changes, or mutations, that lead different tumor cells to grow out of control. When identical mutations show up in different types of cancer, there’s a good chance the same drug will target both types – even if the tumors came from different parts of the body.  

The Cancer Genome Atlas

The researchers in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) program at the National Institutes of Health are cataloguing the genomes of thousands of tumors from patients with more than 20 different types of cancer, including brain, lung, colon, and breast cancer. TCGA data have revealed the mutations driving a specific type of lung cancer, called squamous cell lung cancer, and these genes are now being targeted in cancer treatments. Researchers have also discovered that 68 of the tumor genes identified in ovarian cancers respond to existing anti-cancer drugs. Information like this can help scientists understand, and combat, the genomic changes driving cancer cell growth.

Photo Credits

Cancer cell illustrations courtesy of Darryl Leja, NHGRI

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