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Genetics Hold Promise, Challenges for Cancer Care
Date:9/16/2007

Discoveries are exciting but roadblocks remain, experts say

SUNDAY, Sept. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Someday in the future, people may routinely have doctors scan their personal genomes, looking for this or that aberrant gene to help prevent, spot or treat a cancer.

"We are in the midst of both an evolution and a revolution in cancer care," said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

While gene-specific treatments such as the leukemia "wonder drug" Gleevec are already on the scene, "we still have an incredibly long way to go in terms of how we understand the basic genetics of cancer," he said.

"Right now, we are working still at a very crude level -- the future will be much more dynamic," Lichtenfeld said.

The "genetics generation" has much to be proud of, however. The mapping of the human genome in the late 1990s, the advent of high-output methods to comb through thousands of genes, and a deepening knowledge of the complexities of DNA and RNA are bringing new discoveries each week.

Some of the highlights from just the past year:

  • Last August, a U.S. team announced the first-ever gene test aimed at pinpointing which patients with early stage lung cancer will benefit from post-operative chemotherapy, and which can be spared the arduous treatment.
  • That same month, Canadian researchers reported on a new model to speed the identification of mutations linked to a silent killer, ovarian cancer. Spotting those genes could pinpoint women at risk.
  • A $100 million U.S. project called the Cancer Genome Atlas announced its first major achievement in September -- the mapping of genomes for breast and colon cancer. Scientists say they were able to identify 100 mutations thought responsible for each of those malignancies.
  • In March, British scientists reported that they had pinpointed 100 mutated genes that help drive
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