An international research team has linked a small number of genes to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The team, led by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said people with defects in the genes are up to 40 percent more likely to develop the life-threatening disease than those without.
Researchers said the study, published online in the journal of Gastroenterology, could lead to dramatic improvements in doctors’ ability to identify people at greater risk of developing the cancer and point the way to new diagnostic tests and drugs to target the DNA defects.
"These findings could potentially lead to new drug targets and, in combination with previously identified genetic and environmental risk factors, identify subgroups of the population that can benefit most from colorectal-cancer screening and could be targeted for early or more frequent endoscopy, a very effective screening tool for colorectal cancer," said Ulrike "Riki" Peters, a cancer-prevention specialist at Fred Hutch who helped direct the study.
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Peters and colleagues from 40 institutes around the world have been studying genes linked to colorectal cancer for the past four years, analyzing data from approximately 40,000 study participants, half of whom have the disease.
The team scanned blood DNA from 12,696 people with colorectal cancer or a precancerous condition called adenoma and compared the results to the DNA from 15,113 other healthy people. The scans identified 2.7 million genetic defects, 10 of which were associated with colorectal cancer.
The researchers said their findings indicate people with one or two of the genetic variants face a 10-40 percent increased risk of developing colorectal cancer than individuals without them.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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