Public Release:  Sibling study could lead to better treatments for inherited form of colon cancer

Utah researchers 1 step closer to understanding how certain forms of colon cancer develop

University of Utah Health Sciences

SALT LAKE CITY--Researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) believe they may be one step closer to understanding how certain forms of colon cancer develop.

In a study using siblings who have been diagnosed with colon cancer, scientists discovered similarities on a region of a particular chromosome, referred to as 7q31. Researchers believe that piece of genetic material may be causing a subset of colon cancers that run in families.

"It's those genetic similarities in colon cancer patients that would suggest that region holds a gene that's causing colon cancer," says Deborah Neklason, PhD and lead investigator on the study. Referred to as the Cancer Genetics Network "Sibling Pair Project," Neklason and other researchers analyzed the genetic material of 82 siblings. In addition to the discovery of a potential location of a cancer-causing gene, the research also shows siblings who share this genetic region tend to develop cancer 3.8 years earlier than siblings who do not. The study findings are published in the November 1, 2008 issue of Cancer Research.

Scientists already know roughly 30 percent of all colon cancers are a direct result of an inherited gene, but less than five percent of these genes have been identified. "Those cases where the genes have been identified tend to be pretty dramatic," says Neklason. "Colon cancer develops at young ages and the cases are easier to figure out. It's the other 25 percent that's tough. These cases are more like sporadic colon cancer and are much more subtle," she says.

The findings could ultimately lead to a better understanding of the cellular process that results in cancer and its progression. It will likely pave the way for more targeted research that could someday result in a screening test to detect genetic forms of colon cancer.

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HCI was the lead cancer center in this investigation, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute, Cancer Genetics Network and Surveillance and Epidemiology and End Results Programs. Other research institutions participating in the study include: University of California Irvine; Karmanos Cancer Institute; Johns Hopkins University; Colorado School of Public Health; Duke University; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; University of Texas M. D. Anderson Medical Cancer Center; Cancer Therapy and Research Center and University of Texas San Antonio; University of Pennsylvania; Massachusetts General Hospital Statistical Coordinating Center; Yale Center for Informatics; and National Cancer Institute.

The study's lead researcher, Deborah Neklason, PhD is available for interviews. To schedule an interview, contact the office of public affairs at (801)587-4770.

The mission of Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at The University of Utah is to understand cancer from its beginnings, to use that knowledge in the creation and improvement of cancer treatments, to relieve the suffering of cancer patients, and to provide education about cancer risk, prevention, and care. HCI is a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, which means that it meets the highest national standards for cancer care and research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is also a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) a not-for-profit alliance of the world's leading cancer centers, which is dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of care provided to patients with cancer. For more information about HCI, please visit www.huntsmancancer.org.

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