Genetics Promise Advancements for the Future of Cancer Treatment

Researchers have been working for years to understand the genetic changes that lead to cancer. One type of changes are called mutations and can cause cells to grow out of control. Sometimes, the gene mutations that can lead to cancer are inherited. But that is usually not the case. Most cancer is started by mutations that occur during a person’s lifetime. Researchers are studying these changes in the hopes of one day developing tests that would help doctors customize cancer treatment based on a patient’s genes.

A big step toward this goal was completed in 2003, when government and private researchers mapped the entire sequence of DNA, called the human genome. This undertaking, called The Human Genome Project, took more than 10 years.

An even bigger project, The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), has now begun. Researchers are proposing to map the genes of cancer cells to try to learn how those genes changed to produce the cancer. One of the TCGA programs is a 5-year project to chart the gene changes involved in more than 20 types of cancer. It involves hundreds of researchers across the US and Canada.

Recently, some of these researchers published findings that improve our understanding of the gene changes involved in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Others reported findings for endometrial cancer that suggest some of these tumors share characteristics with some types of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

A goal of these projects is to develop more useful genetic tests to help doctors decide what treatments are likely to work best for each patient. Learn more about the complex issues involved by reading our Expert Voices blog posts about personalized medicine and the many discoveries that can come from well-conducted basic science.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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