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Gene Friday Series – No Two Cancers are the Same

This blog is part 2 of 4 of our "Gene" Fridays series on cancer genetics.

Pancreas cancer was one of the first cancer genomes Dr. Bert Vogelstein and team deciphered.  For this study, the scientists examined 24 pancreas cancers and determined the sequence of all of the genes in these cancers.  On average, they found just 50 mutations (genetic mistakes that are present only in cancer cells) among the 20,000 genes in each cell. Other than these 50 differences, the genes in the cancer cell were identical to those in normal cells. It is no wonder then that progress has come slower than the public would like and that general curative treatments have been elusive.  These studies also revealed a complexity that no one had anticipated. The 50 or so changes that lead to cancer are not consistent.  While every cancer has a similar number of alterations, not every cancer has the same 50 alterations. They vary from patient to patient. “No two cancers are exactly the same,” says Dr. Vogelstein.   The difficulty of the work the Vogelstein team accomplished to find these rare changes has been likened to finding a few critical typographical errors within 20 volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica and then figuring out how they got there.

Part One: Understanding Cancer Genetics