DNA analysis shows huge genetic diversity in tumours

Kidney Cancer cells Kidney cancer cells

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Taking a sample from one part of a tumour may not reveal its full genetic identity, according to research by scientists from Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

They carried out the first genome-wide analysis of the genetic variation between different regions of the same tumour using samples of kidney cancer.

They found around two third of genetic faults were not repeated across other biopsies from the same tumour. The research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Lead author Professor Charles Swanton, based at CRUK's London Research Institute and the UCL Cancer Institute said:

"This has revealed an extraordinary amount of diversity, with more differences between biopsies from the same tumour at the genetic level than there are similarities. The next step will be to understand what's driving this diversity in different cancers and identify key driver mutations that are common throughout all parts of a tumour."

The tumour samples were donated by patients with advanced kidney cancer being treated at London's Royal Marsden Hospital.

The findings may explain why personalised cancer treatments based on biomarkers from tumour biopsies are not always successful.

The gene sequencing revealed that even samples next to each other in the tumour were not identical.

Professor Swanton said as a clinician the findings did not surprise him but they helped explain why cancers are so difficult to treat once they have spread.

He said cancers adapted as they grew, along 'Darwinian principles' of evolution: "We need to think of tumours like trees, with common mutations in the trunk but the more they spread into the branches the greater the genetic diversity."

Prof Swanton said the findings underlined the importance of early diagnosis of cancer before it had spread, and the need to target the common mutations in the 'trunk' of the cancer.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Cancer is fundamentally a genetic disease, and it would be very naive to think that once a mutation is established, it will not continue to evolve. Researchers 50 years ago, looking at the huge diversity of bone marrow biopsies in leukaemia and lymphoma voiced the same suspicion - exact classification proved impossible - only the most significant characteristics repeated and not in all patients.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I've always felt that cancer treatments are worse than the cancer itself. Cancer treatments make you weaker, decrease the immune system, and make huge profits for pharmaceutical industry. I can foresee genetic analysis playing a critical role in the future so that every cancer treatment is unique to the cancer cells, far less invasive, and far more successful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    This paper confirms earlier work published in Nature, 15 December 2010 http://bit.ly/ACL9wH. In the study, funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, principal authors Professor Mel Greaves of The Institute of Cancer Research and Professor Tariq Enver of the University of Oxford revealed that cancer clones evolve in a Darwinian fashion by ongoing genetic variation and natural selection in the body.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    13. CM

    Spots, hives, rashes be they 'diagnosed' as something particular or not have a variety of causes, fungus, bacteria & even the effects of prescribed medication - OK they should not be ignored, but nether should they be a cause for panic.

    When GPs are presented with spots & rashes they are not at all good at diagnosis but reluctant to admit they are stumped - get a referral to an expert.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Interesting comment from Sheila about shingles: I also got them on face / neck left side. guess where cancer was: thyroid. Connected ? Maybe - but early diagnosis certainly helps


Comments 5 of 17



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