Simple cancer risk test 'two years away'

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blood testA simple blood test that would predict a person's likelihood of developing different types of cancer could be in use within two years, scientists said yesterday.

Researchers have found evidence supporting the theory that mutations in stem cells, the body's basic building blocks that can change into other types of cell, are fundamental to the development of cancers.

Stem cells are kept in an immature state by proteins called the Polycomb group which suppress critical genes that would otherwise cause them to develop. When the body functions normally, it can transform stem cells into different types of cell by allowing different combinations of genes to be switched on.

However a process called DNA methylation, in which these key genes are permanently switched off, leaves stem cells unable to become healthy new tissue. Analysis of 200 different genes in adult stem cells, and of normal and cancerous breast, ovary, bowel and lung tissue has shown that DNA methylation predisposes cells to becoming cancerous.

As the process can be identified through a blood test, it should be possible to work out an individual's background risk of getting different cancers.

This would mean those at high risk could be screened more regularly — leading to many more cancers being treated at an early stage.

Dr Martin Widschwendter, of University College London's Institute for Women's Health, found that in cancerous samples the methylation process was 12 times more likely to have happened in the key genes than in others.

Dr Widschwendter, whose work was published online by the journal Nature Genetics, said: "It is possible that in two years' time we could be introducing a whole new way of predicting cancer risk."

source Telegraph UK

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