Researchers Gain New Insight Into Genetic Roots Of Cancer

Armen Hareyan's picture

Results of a Cleveland Clinic study suggest that more cancers have a hereditary link than previously thought and that lack of genetic diversity can predispose individuals to certain cancers.

The findings challenge current scientific data that only 5% of all cancers are linked to a genetic predisposition. The research led by Charis Eng, M.D., Ph.D., the Sondra J. and Stephen R. Hardis Chair and Director of Cleveland Clinic's Genomic Medicine Institute, involved the analysis of patient's blood and tumor DNA among 385 patients with breast (147), prostate (116) and head and neck cancers (122), and confirmed in 205 patients with lung cancers.


Using technology that allows scanning of the genetic composition of blood and tumor cells, researchers identified 16 loci or chromosomal areas, which showed a lack of genetic diversity (or variety). By contrast, in the study's control population, people without cancer, these areas contained genetic diversity and variety.

"The findings were surprising," Dr. Eng said. "They suggest that the lack of diversity among chromosomal markers is a genetic weakness that predisposes individuals to developing many common cancers."

It is not clear how or why this lack of diversity predisposes an individual to certain cancers, however, further work will examine potential reasons, Dr. Eng said. Additionally, the researchers plan to examine whether other types of cancer also contain a lack of genetic diversity, to further aid in the understanding of the hereditary causes of cancer.

If future, large-scale studies can confirm these findings, then genetic testing based on these results can serve as a brand-new way for assessing an individual's risk for developing certain types of common cancers, Dr. Eng said. This would provide for more comprehensive genetic testing beyond the traditional gene testing currently offered.