A ‘Handful’ Of Gene Faults Turn Cells Cancerous

Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, have found that it only takes between one and ten DNA mutations to cause cells to become cancerous. The team looked at the genetic patterns of 7,664 tumours from 29 types of cancer and mapped their ‘driver DNA mutations’.  The ‘driver mutations’ in the DNA allow the cells to be more aggressive and become cancerous.

They found that on average tumours have 4 genetic faults. Testicular and thyroid cancers were some of the sites which needed the fewest faults to develop (less than 1 on average).  Breast and liver cancer needed approximately 4 mutations, while melanoma, bowel and endometrial cancers needed the most (more than 10 on average).

Dr Peter Campbell, one of the researchers, said: “We’ve known about the genetic basis of cancer for many decades now, but how many mutations are responsible has been incredibly hotly debated. What we’ve been able to do in this study is really provide the first unbiased numbers. And it seems that of the thousands of mutations in a cancer genome, only a small handful are responsible for dictating the way the cell behaves, what makes it cancerous.”

The study, published in the journal Cell, shows that the half of the mutations found were in genes that had never been associated with cancer before. It is hoped that this research can support in the development of targeted cancer treatment. To read more about this study please go to BBC news or Cancer Research UK. The original article is available in the journal Cell.