University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers now believe that as many as 70 gene mutations (changes) lead to the development of colon cancer - many more than once thought. These findings could lead to therapies that target a number of gene and gene pathways at the same time.
"New therapies for colon cancer will likely target a number genes."
This research contradicts previous ideas that only several mutations were behind tumor development.
As a result of this thinking, existing therapies target only one or two genes that are known to be driving the cancer. And while these treatments offer some benefit, in almost all cases, colon cancer tumors return.
Previously, scientists had thought there were 151 genes possibly involved and that 15 mutations could cause cancer. Additionally, 700 so-called passenger genes were thought to contribute to the cancer in some way.
Dr. Jerry W. Shay, vice chairman and professor of cell biology at UT Southwestern, says these numbers are "dead wrong." According to the new research, there are 65 candidate genes and five passenger gene mutations that probably play roles in developing cancer.
Next steps will be to identify and accurately classify which genes are the drivers and which are the passengers.
This research was published in the July 2011 Cancer Research.