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Genetic Analyses of Cancers Can Be Helpful in Mapping out Cancer Risk, Study Reports

Update Date: May 02, 2013 01:48 PM EDT

The efforts of the National Institute of Health' projects with the goal to examine DNA changes in common cancers appeared to have paid off as two studies were published this past Wednesday, May 1 2013. Although the studies were not exactly related, since one focused on endometrial cancer and the other on acute myeloid leukemia, they were still optimistic for cancer research as a whole. Both studies incorporated the help of over 100 researchers and looked at nearly 400 endometrial tumors and 200 leukemia cases. The researchers aimed to analyze the genetic makeups and aberrations of these cancers.

"This is exploring the landscape of cancer genomics," Dr. David P. Steensma, who was not a part of the study, stated. "Many developments in medicine are about treatments or tests that are only useful for a certain period of time until something better comes by. Bu this is something that will be useful 200 years from now. This is a landmark that will stand the test of time."

In the first study headed by Dr. Douglas Levine of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the research team analyzed the samples of endometrial cancer, which occurs in the uterus. Endometrial cancer kills nearly 8,000 American women per year, afflicts roughly 50,000 women, and is considered to be the most common gynecological cancer. The researchers looked at hundreds of tumors and their genetic makeups and were able to divide the tumors into four distinct groups. The researchers also found that in the majority of the tumor samples, there was a specific mutation in a gene that prohibits the process of repairing DNA. This mutation can lead to many more mutations than one would find in cancer cells. Endometrial cancers with this mutation appeared to have better outcomes. Furthermore, the researchers found that the worst type of endometrial cancer was comparable to the worst kinds of ovarian and breast cancers, which suggest that these three types of cancers can be treated in similar ways.

The research linking the genetic makeups and aberrations of different cancers did not stop at endometrial cancer. The research studying acute myeloid leukemia, headed by Dr. Timothy Ley and Richard Wilson both from Washington University in St. Louis found over 260 genes within their sample that were mutated. Acute myeloid leukemia kills nearly 10,000 Americans a year. By analyzing the common genetic aberrations in this cancer, doctors can hopefully screen patients for their severity of the disease.

"We finally know what the major pathways are and what all major mutations look like," Ley said. "Within two or three years, risk assessment may be dramatically better."

The study on endometrial cancer was published in Nature and the study on acute myeloid leukemia was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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