Massive cancer genome study shows DNA errors can lurk for years before other signs emerge

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Color-enhanced image of a lung cancer cell dividing. Anne Weston/Francis Crick Institute (CC BY-NC 4.0)

(Tom Hale/ IFL Science) — A gigantic new project has sequenced the genomes of dozens of cancers, revealing an unprecedented look into the fundamental nature of cancer. Among the research’s many fresh insights, it revealed that the genetic glitches responsible for cancer can sometimes appear years or decades before any other signs of cancer.

The Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) project involved over 10 years of work from more than 1,300 scientists around the world. Their findings were released today in nearly two dozen papers in Nature and other Nature Research journals.

Altogether, the project has sequenced 2,658 whole-cancer genomes from 38 different tumor types. Previous research has focused on the protein-coding regions of the cancer genome, accounting for around 1 percent of the picture, while this whole-genome analysis throws light onto the remaining 99 percent. (…)

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