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Genetic variation links prostate and colon cancer
Genetic variation links prostate and colon cancer

July 12, 2007 (Insidermedicine) A combination of genetic variants that boosts the risk of prostate cancer also increases the risk of colorectal cancer, say researchers in a report published in Nature Genetics.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth deadliest form of cancer in the US, and results in over half a million deaths per year worldwide. It has been previously linked to a small number of relatively rare genetic mutations, as well as to lifestyle habits, such as smoking, and a diet high in fat and low in fruit and vegetables. When it is diagnosed early, it can be treated and cured. But most cases are found too late, when the cancer has spread and has poor prognosis.

To better understand the genetic elements of colorectal cancer, researchers analyzed the genes of thousands of people to look for markers that are more common in people with colon cancer than in healthy controls.

They found that part of chromosome 8, a region of the genome recently linked to breast and prostate cancer, also seems linked to colorectal cancer in a surprisingly large number of people. According to the report, the variant exists in about half the population and contributes an excess risk, per copy, of about 20%.

The finding is important because it is the first time a common genetic risk factor has been shown to be associated with multiple cancer types. This suggests that a common biological mechanism may be involved, although more research is needed to explore its nature.

The researchers are hopeful that one day a simple blood test will be available to help identify people at risk, so that treatment can be initiated early, before the cancer spreads beyond its site of origin.

Reporting for Insidermedicine, I’m Dr. Susan Sharma.