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Subspecialties Genetics and epigenetics, Oncology, Omics

Cancer’s Common Core

In a landmark study by the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), scientists believe they have discovered the common genetic faults at the root of individual prostate cancers.

The ICGC Prostate Cancer UK group analyzed the genomes of tumor samples in 10 patients, allowing them to map the genetic changes that occurred as the tumors grew, metastasized and developed treatment resistance (1). They found massive genetic diversity between cells even when taken from different sites in the same prostate – but despite this diversity, the researchers were able to show that metastatic prostate cancer cells all share common mutations unique to the individual patient. In a Cancer Research UK press release (2), study author Ros Eeles said, “We found that all of the cells that had broken free shared a common ancestor cell in the prostate. The common faults we found in each man could potentially offer new targets for treatment.” Principal author Steven Bova agrees, saying, “The diversity we’ve found suggests multiple biopsies might be needed to identify the ‘trunk’ of the cancer’s tree of mutations – we need treatments that target these core weaknesses to destroy all cancer cells in a clean sweep.”

Eeles also reported that she and her group gained a much broader view of prostate cancer as a whole by studying both the original tumors and the cells that had metastasized. They discovered new information about the way prostate cancer spreads through the body (see infographic), using genetic evidence to show that the cells that initiate metastasis continue to travel through the circulatory system seeding additional tumors. However, Eeles adds the caveat that “once cancer cells have spread, they continue to evolve genetically, so choosing the most effective treatments will remain a key challenge.” For a disease that kills over 300,000 men worldwide each year (3), any step toward better treatment is welcome.

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  1. G Gundem, et al., “The evolutionary history of lethal metastatic prostate cancer”, Nature, 520, 353–357 (2015). PMID: 25830880.
  2. Cancer Research UK, “Scientists drill down to genetic root of prostate tumour development” (2015). Available at: Accessed April 17, 2015.
  3. J Ferlay, et al. “GLOBOCAN 2012: Prostate cancer estimated incidence, mortality and prevalence worldwide in 2012” (2013). Available at: Accessed April 17, 2015.
About the Author
Michael Schubert

While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.

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