Cancer Breakthrough


This is the biggest and by far the best health news since Dr. Jonas Salk discovered the vaccine to prevent polio in 1952.  That folks, is fifty-seven years ago.

As reported in The Guardian and picked up by The Left Coaster, the genome for the two most common cancers, skin and lung, has been sequenced.

Scientists have reconstructed the biological history of two types of cancer in a genetic tour de force that promises to transform medical treatment of the disease.

The feat, a world first, lays bare every genetic mutation the patients have acquired over their lifetimes that eventually caused healthy cells in their bodies to turn into tumours.

The procedure gives doctors a profound insight into the biological causes of a patient’s cancer and marks a major milestone in progress towards personalised anticancer therapies and strategies to prevent the disease.

Continuing on (emphasis in original):

As explained in Nature:

Peter Campbell, a haemotologist and cancer-genomics expert at the Sanger Institute who worked on the latest studies, says that the number of genetic mutations they identified — 33,345 for melanoma and 22,910 for lung cancer — was remarkable. The mutations were not distributed evenly throughout the genome — many were present outside of gene-coding regions, suggesting that cells had repaired damaged DNA in those key regions.Campbell says that the findings help to answer lingering questions about whether carcinogens cause most mutations directly, or if cancer itself contributes to the mutations by disrupting the function of DNA-repair mechanisms. The team found that most mutations were single-base DNA substitutions that could be traced to the carcinogenic effects of chemicals in tobacco smoke (in the case of the small-cell lung cancer genome) or ultraviolet light (in the melanoma genome), supporting the idea that these two cancers are largely preventable. The team estimates that every 15 cigarettes smoked results in a DNA mutation. “Every pack of cigarettes is like a game of Russian roulette,” Campbell says. “Most of those mutations will land where nothing happens in the genome and won’t do major damage, but every once in a while they’ll hit a cancer gene.”

I know a lot of cancer survivors, who if they were diagnosed with cancer fifty-seven years ago, would have, most likely, succumbed to that cancer.  But, I have had far too  many friends and acquaintances that have succumbed to some form of cancer.

As I approach the end of my seventh decade on planet earth, I am hoping we can bring this scourge to heel.

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