Breakthrough could identify those at risk and save lives through early detection

Researchers at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and Cancer Care Ontario have successfully identified a specific genetic variation on chromosome 8 that is associated with colorectal cancer. This is the first genetic predictor identified for the most common forms of colorectal cancer to date and may play a significant role in screening for the disease.

The project involved researchers from around the world including Canada, the US, France, England, and Scotland who analyzed more than 100,000 genetic elements from 10,000 people, including 2,400 Ontarians from the Ontario Familial Colorectal Cancer Registry. Published in the journal, Nature Genetics, the study reports the work of the Assessment of Risk for Colorectal Tumours in Canada (ARCTIC) project.

Ontario has one of the highest colorectal cancer rates in the world. An estimated 7,800 Ontarians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2007 and 3,250 will die from the disease.

Previous research on chromosome 8 has linked it to other forms of cancer, including prostate cancer, suggesting that individuals with this newly discovered variation may be at risk for a broad spectrum of cancers.

“This discovery will lead to better understanding of colorectal cancer biology and the cause of this disease,” said Dr. Tom Hudson, co-principal investigator and president and scientific director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. “This information can be used to identify those at risk of colorectal cancer and direct them to screening at an earlier age.”

Colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer as the deadliest form of cancer in Canada. Remarkably, if detected early, colorectal cancer is 90% curable.

“This breakthrough could lead to new methods of testing for colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Brent Zanke, co-principal investigator and scientist at Cancer Care Ontario. “For example, this genetic variation could be detected through a tool as simple as a blood test. Used as part of a screening program, this information could help individualize screening and prevention efforts saving lives and money.”

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 162 – July/August 2007
Source: Cancer Care Ontario news release