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Why Is Cancer Hard To Cure? Over 2,000 Genetic Variations Occur In Just One Tumor

Update Date: Jan 03, 2017 08:30 AM EST
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Today, cancer affects millions of people worldwide. One of the hardest things about treating the different types is that they become immune to a certain therapeutic regimen, making relapse easier and more aggressive. Why is cancer hard to treat? A new study led by Cedars-Sinai scientists found more than 2,000 genetic mutations in tissue samples of esophageal cancer.

The new study sheds light on the complexity of cancer and why these tumors are very difficult to eradicate in the body. The findings also reveal that even different areas of individual tumors have numerous genetic patterns.

Why Is Cancer Hard To Treat?

Published in the journal Nature Genetics, the study explains why it's so difficult to battle cancer by targeting a specific genetic defect. This is because cancer cells continuously change their genetic makeup, mutating until they become resistant to various treatment options doctors advise today.

"A tumor is not a single disease," Dechen Lin, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said as reported by Science Daily"It's many diseases within the same person and over time. There are millions of cells in a tumor, and a significant proportion of them are different from each other," he added.

Over 2,000 Genetic Mutations

In the study, the researchers examined esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, which is one of the cancers most difficult to treat. In fact, the five-year survival rate for this type of cancer is 20 percent. Using high-powered computers, they collated genetic data on 52 tumor samples from about 13 patients. They identified 2,178 genetic variations in the samples.

"Evidence suggests that tumor heterogeneity is one of the major causes of drug resistance and treatment failure in cancer," Phillip Koeffler, MD, professor of Medicine and the Mark Goodson Chair in Oncology Research at Cedars-Sinai, said.

"In light of this situation, deciphering the genomic diversity and evolution of tumors can provide a basis for identifying new targets and designing personalized medicine strategies," he added.

The findings of the study could pave way for better understanding of the genetic makeup and variations of tumor cells throughout the body. This could help scientists develop future treatment options that would eradicate the tumor cells without the fear of relapse and resistance.

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