Vulnerability to genetic mutations, which can be inherited from parents or acquired through the environment, causes cancer. Researchers have studied the genetic origins of cancer, but it was not until recently they were able to study the non-coding regions, which make up 98% of the genome. This previously unexplored territory has an active role in regulating gene expression and cancer development. According to a study published in the journal Nature, researchers applied the new method of decoding non-coding DNA to colorectal cancer, which is diagnosed in one million individuals worldwide each year, and causes death in almost half of patients with the disease. Emmanouil Dermitzakis and researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) used genome sequencing on 103 samples of colorectal cancer and healthy tissue. The results of the study showed two types of non-coding mutations that play a role in colorectal cancer development. The inherited mutation is only active in tumor tissue and advances cancer progression, which shows that inherited predispositions toward cancer development affects cancer progression as well. The other type of mutation is acquired and affects the regulation of gene expression, which then influences development and progression of colorectal cancer. Lead author Halit Ongen said studying the entire genome provides more comprehensive knowledge on the disease.
Cancer is a disease of the genome resulting from a combination of genetic modifications (or mutations). We inherit from our parents strong or weak predispositions to developing certain kinds of cancer; in addition, we also accumulate new mutations in our cells throughout our lifetime.