Harvard Health Letter

Colorectal cancer genes identified

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in both men and women. Over the past 20 years, scientists have identified a number of genes that make people more vulnerable to this cancer. Some genes are inherited from a parent. Some genes are mutated long after a person is born, with the mutations leading to cancer. A huge new study published July 18 in the journal Nature, involving over 150 researchers from many different institutions including Harvard Medical School, examined genes from colorectal cancers and from healthy tissue of the same people. The study identified many new genetic changes that appear to be involved in causing colorectal cancer. Cancer therapy is moving from the use of chemotherapy (drugs that kill cancerous cells but also injure or kill healthy cells) to new drugs that just target cancerous cells. Each of these newly identified genetic changes is a target for drug therapy.

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