Friday, September 08, 2006

An Unwanted Journey - Day 0290 - Colorectal Cancer Genes

Ever wonder why treating colorectal cancer seems so complicated? Or, if it is in fact so complicated, why the chemotherapy protocols seem so similar from one patient to the other?

Yesterday in Science, it was announced that scientists have identified most of the genes causing breast and colorectal cancer. Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, suggests that this mapping of genes to two of the biggest cancer killers worldwide should lead to a change in the standard treatment. Instead of one-size-fits-all, knowing the genes involved should lead to better genetic diagnoses and genetic treatment protocols individualized to patient needs.

It may take some time, however. There are 122 genes affecting breast cancer and 69 genes affecting colorectal cancer. There are, surprisingly, almost no overlaps in the genes causing the two cancers. Since 40,000 die each year in the USA of breast cancer and 56,000 die each year of colorectal cancers, it is critical that further research and testing is conducted right away.

In the case of colorectal tumours, the scientists discovered that identical tumours of the same organs had only about five genes in common, obviously making standard chemotherapy treatments useful for only some patients, while others find themselves benefitting little, if at all.

How long do we have to wait? At least 2-3 years for the first genetic tumour profiles and treatment protocol modifications. But new technology may reduce time to treatment. I would remind readers of a simple way they can contribute to this research - visit and sign up for the Help Defeat Cancer project.

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