A new discovery from OMRF could help identify those at risk for colon cancer, which claims 655,000 lives each year but is treatable if found early enough.
In a paper published this month in the Journal of Cancer Research, OMRF scientist Courtney Gray Montgomery, Ph.D., identified a cluster of three genes associated with early-onset colon cancer in families.
“Several studies have been done on the genetics of colon cancer, but they all missed these genes because they were looking at samples from individuals and not families,” she said. “We were the first to find the link, and then our work was confirmed by a group of Swedish scientists.”
Montgomery said through her collaboration with Sandford Markowitz, M.D., Ph.D., at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center in Cleveland, they have been able to predict with about 60 percent certainty that people with the gene cluster will get colon cancer.
“When we find which of the three genes is the ‘driver,’ then we’ll be able to make more accurate predictions,” she said.
Because the genes cause early-onset colon cancer, predictions can save lives, she said. According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer caused approximately 50,000 deaths in the U.S. last year, making it the second-leading killer among all cancers.
The U.S. Department of Health recommends people begin to receive colon cancer screenings at age 50, but early-onset colon cancer can happen before those tests take place. With genetic testing, families can find out if their doctors should begin looking for signs of cancer earlier.
“We’re going to continue studying these genes and hope to discover which plays the most critical role,” Montgomery said. “Then maybe we can begin looking for therapeutics to regulate the genes to prevent the cancer from even starting.”
Montgomery worked with scientists from the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University on the project. Funding was provided by the Prevent Cancer Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Cancer Institute.