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3 New Lung Cancer Genes Identified

They are associated with 20 percent of all lung malignancies, scientists say

TUESDAY, Oct. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Three genes that appear to work together are associated with 20 percent of lung cancers, and these same genes are linked to fetal lung development, researchers report.

Understanding how these genes mesh could be an important step in stopping tumors from forming, according to the report in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We have discovered a frequent genetic mutation in lung cancer," said lead researcher David Mu, from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. "This mutation is found in 20 percent of non-small cell lung cancer, which makes up about 80 percent of all lung cancer."

For the study, Mu's team looked at lung cancer tumor tissue and found that the three genes -- designated TTF1, NKX2-8 and PAX9 -- work together to promote tumor growth. The genes are located next to each other on chromosome 14.

These genes are also involved in the normal development of lungs in the embryo, Mu said. "However, in adults, they can be mutated into a malignant form helping lung cells turn into cancer cells," he said.

This phenomenon of three genes working together to enable cancer cells appears to be unique to lung cancer, he said.

Mu noted that this finding could have important medical applications. "We are looking at identifying patients with this type of mutation to find out what prognosis they have," he said. "We are actively researching this."

It may also be possible to block these gene mutations and prevent tumor growth, Mu said. "Understanding how these genes work is important. In addition, there may be other genes that are important for the function of these genes and might be better targets for therapy," he said.

Dr. Michael Thun, head of epidemiological research at the American Cancer Society, said the discovery could lead one day to predicting lung cancer prognosis and designing individual treatment.

"There is a search on to find the gene mutations involved in cancer," he said. "If you know what genes are malfunctioning in a cancer, it is useful in predicting prognosis, and you can tailor treatment to fit the abnormalities that are present in the tumor tissue."

Thun also said that knowing the genetic components of a cancer can help determining who's at risk for developing a specific malignancy.

More information

For more on lung cancer, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

SOURCES: David Mu, Ph.D., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, N.Y.; Michael Thun, M.D., head, epidemiological research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Oct. 8-12, 2007, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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