Redefining Cancer Based on Its Mutations Rather Than Its Organ

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As scientists learn how to use new and powerful tools to identify what is broken, or mutated, within individual cases of cancer, they are increasingly finding that cancers previously classified as being totally different (based on the organ in which the cancer started) have some major molecular similarities. This is important not just in understanding the basic biology of cancers, but in choosing new treatments based not just on where the cancer started, but also base on what’s broken. Finding these mutations in each individual cancer can also help doctors give much more accurate prognosis information.

Last September, I wrote about a major NIH project called the Cancer Genome Atlas and how at that time an analysis of breast cancer showed 4 major subtypes.

This week, 2 more studies made headlines in analyzing genetic changes in endometrial cancer and in acute myeloid leukemia.

In endometrial cancer, researchers saw that some types were genetically similar to some types of ovarian, breast, or colon cancers. They were able to use genetic changes to create 4 categories of endometrial cancer, and based on these categories help determine which cases of endometrial cancer were more or less likely to respond to traditional chemotherapy approaches.

In acute myeloid leukemia (AML), new genetics studies were able to show the presence of at least one potential driver mutation causing the disease in nearly all cases. Finding these sorts of driver mutations is critical, because blocking those particular mutations in each person’s individual cancer with new drugs is a way of personalizing their therapy and increasing the odds of a good outcome. Finding these mutations can also help doctors give a more accurate prognosis to each patient, and better guide patients on whether or not they might benefit from going on to bone marrow transplant.

We are in an exciting time of innovation in cancer. These early examples show us that we are on our way to a time in which we will use these genetic techniques to better understand each individual patient’s cancer to be smarter about prognosis and treatment.

2 thoughts on “Redefining Cancer Based on Its Mutations Rather Than Its Organ”

  1. kajern says:

    how do i find others going thru the roller coaster like me?

    1. LIVESTRONG says:

      Call us. We work with a peer-to-peer matching service that will set you up with someone to talk to that has been there. Call 1-855-220-7777 or go online here: http://www.livestrong.org/wecanhelp.

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