Scientists unlocking cancer's secrets

Cancer kills around 1.7 million people in Europe every year, yet little is known about its exact origins. This is why the latest breakthrough in research is being hailed as one of the most significant. A team of international scientists at the Sanger Institute in Britain has unlocked the DNA secrets behind 30 of the most common types of the disease. “This study is first of all the largest study to date, of cancer genomes, 7,000 cancer genomes aggregated for analysis and this is the first comprehensive overview of the mutational signatures that are operative in human cancer,” said Mike Stratton of the Sanger Institute. Cancer is caused by the mutations triggered by chemicals, radiation or ageing – scientists have managed to identify the signatures the cancer mutations leave behind. Ludmil Alexandrov at the Sanger Institute explained: “We can examine the genome of a cancer cell like an archaeological record. So looking at the cancer genome could allow us to understand the mutational processes during the lifetime of the patient.” Though the breakthrough will not lead directly to new treatments, the implication for patients is that now the fight against cancer can focus more on early detection and prevention.