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Unveiling the Genetic Clues behind Cancer’s Growth and Spread


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Research shows that knowing whether a tumor is growing or spreading to other parts of the body may be the key to survival.

In a series of seven papers published in the journal Nature and Nature Medicine, researchers funded by Cancer Research UK describe how changes in cancer cell DNA allow them to predict how cells will behave in the future.

According to the study, this includes where and when the cancer has spread throughout the body. Scientists suggest the results may one day allow doctors to use a blood test to predict how a patient’s cancer will grow and spread. This will allow them to quickly track the disease and tailor treatment in real time.

Research also shows that it provides a potential way for doctors to analyze the risk of disease returning after surgery.

While the focus of the study was on patients with lung cancer, the scientists say their findings could be applicable to other types of cancer, such as melanoma or kidney cancer.

This study is the culmination of Cancer Research UK’s nine-year, £14 million TRACERx study and is the first long-term study on the development of lung cancer.

The study involves over 800 patients in clinical trials and a research team of 250 researchers at 13 hospitals across the UK.

Lead investigator at the Francis Crick Institute in London, UCLA, and chief clinician for cancer research in the UK, Professor Charles Swanton, said: “The TRACERx study recognizes that cancer is not static and that the way we treat patients is not should be static. The TRACERx project is especially powerful because it views tumors as constantly changing ecosystems made up of diverse populations of cancer cells.”

He continued: “By looking at the entire tumor, we can observe how these groups of cells interact and even compete with each other, which helps us gain valuable information about the likelihood and timing of the return of the tumor. We can also observe how the tumor is likely to recur over time. It will spread and be treated, giving hope for the future to millions of patients.

In seven studies, researchers followed 421 of 842 patients in the TRACERx study with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the most common type of lung cancer since diagnosis, to track how the tumors changed over time.

Scientists have come to a number of conclusions, including that tumors can be composed of different groups of cancer cells that carry sets of genes that are constantly changing.

The more diverse these tumors are, the more likely the cancer will return within one year of treatment.

They also found that certain patterns of DNA changes in a patient’s tumor indicated what the cancer might be doing next.

These patterns can tell doctors which parts of the tumor may grow and spread to other parts of the body in the future.

Blood tests can be used to monitor these changes in tumor DNA in real time, helping doctors detect early signs that the cancer has returned or is not responding, the scientists say.

The team also investigated whether it could track changes in a tumor and characteristics of its genetic diversity without the need for surgery or a biopsy.

By analyzing DNA released into the bloodstream from cancer cells, known as circulating cancer DNA (cDNA), they found that the presence of circulating cancer DNA in the blood before or after surgery indicates the possibility of a patient’s cancer recurring in the future.

What’s more, the researchers also found that the microscopic patterns resulting from the arrangement of cancer cells are associated with the risk of cancer recurrence.

UK research chief executive Dr Ian Foulkes said: “A blood test that reads circulating cancer DNA could allow doctors to track someone’s cancer in real time, allowing them to tailor treatment for that patient.”

Source: Independent

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