Monday, 4 June 2012

Genetics in Cancer

Genetics in Cancer

Hello, everyone. Today, I shall discuss the topic of cancer or, more accurately, a recent advance in genetics that should assist us greatly in the fight against cancer. Cancer currently afflicts 112,300 Australians, and causes 39,000 deaths every year (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2008). You can see that this is quite an intolerably large figure. Luckily, scientists are becoming able to identify the specific genetic mutations that lead to individual malignant neoplasms (that’s just the smart-people name for cancerous tumours). This innovation lets us give more effective treatment, and undergo greater in-depth analysis of the origins of a cancer.

The University of Colorado
This technique is still in the early stages of development, so scientists are not even close to identifying all of the genetic mutations that cause all types of cancer. However, researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Centre performed a clinical trial in 2010 in which they did actually manage to link genetic anomalies to cancer. In this case, they studied a particular rearrangement of genes inside the cancer cells of thirteen different lung cancer patients. The study involved testing a drug designed to target this ‘gene rearrangement’ (Camidge 2010).

Diagram of human lungs containing a tumour
These researches managed to show that the identification of genetic mutations in cancer cells allows cancer to be treated very effectively. To see just how effective it is, you can look at the results of the trial for one of its patients, 60-year-old Ellen Pulhamus. Before the study, she had five malignant tumours, which shrunk by 62 percent after just six weeks! In addition to that, another round of treatment brought down their size by a further 50 percent! (Brown 2010) Results as fantastic as these mean that oncologists should soon be able to move on from prescribing drugs that will only work for about one in ten cancer patients, and charge forward to the stage where they can determine exactly which patients will benefit from which treatments, by looking at the genes of their tumours (Brown 2010).

Tumours in a lung

Another goal of the researchers in this field is to try to use gene identification to trace cancer cell mutation back to its origins. This could allow the primary prevention of some cancers by exposing the kinds of lifestyles and environmental conditions that lead to them (Brown 2010). It may even provide current cancer patients with some peace of mind, in that they could find out the reason or reasons behind them being so sick.

Cancer is a tragedy that most of us will have to experience at some point in our lives, whether it be through having to endure it ourselves or witness it in someone close to us. The work done by researchers like those at the University of Colorado Cancer Centre will allow us to extend, or even save, a considerable number of lives, from within our species and perhaps outside it. With cancer being the prevalent calamity that it is, such an achievement will have far-reaching positive consequences for our entire race.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2008, All cancers combined, viewed 18 March 2012, <>

Brown, J 2010, Advances in genetics give cancer fight a bright future, viewed 18 March 2012, <>

Camidge, DR 2010, ‘Optimizing the detection of lung cancer patients harboring anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene rearrangements potentially suitable for ALK inhibitor treatment.’, Clinical Cancer Research, vol. 15, no. 22, pp. 5581-90.

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