Scientists in Houston will work to find genetic fingerprints of different cancers in order to better prevent, treat them

May 6, 2013 4:58:48 PM PDT
What Bree Sandlin learned from her genetics may help save her life. At 37, she had an aggressive form of breast cancer, and she had the breast cancer gene -- BRCA 1 -- which put her at high risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

"What I decided to do was have a proactive bilateral mastectomy, to have both breasts removed -- not just the one with the cancer," Sandlin said. "And I also had my ovaries removed in anticipation of avoiding all future cancers."

Now researchers are looking for similar genetic links between other cancers.

"The so-called 'breast cancer genes' are actually more important for the development of ovarian cancer than they are to breast cancer -- BRCA 1 and BRCA 2," said Dr. Gordon Mills, co-director of the M.D. Anderson Institute of Personalized Cancer Therapy.

Mills says the more those genetic links give them, the more treatment options are available.

"What we think is going to happen is that the same drugs are going to work," he said.

Cancer researchers have now genetically linked some types of breast cancer to ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer.

Other cancer links:

  • Some types of breast cancer are also similar to bladder cancer, which is a brand new discovery.
  • Some head and neck cancers are similar to lung cancer because of smoking.
  • Some head and neck cancers are similar to cervical cancer when they're caused by the HPV virus.
  • Endometrial cancer can be genetically like colon cancer.
  • Some types of brain cancer are linked to leukemia.

The research is going to happen at the M.D. Anderson Institute of Personalized Cancer Therapy, which currently is under construction. Here, hundreds of scientists will work in teams to find the genetic fingerprints of different cancers in order to find better treatments and better prevention.

M.D. Anderson is also playing a major role in coordinating the research on the hundreds of studies underway nationally.

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