Tracing Cancer Back To Its Origin

Cladogram - genetic tree - with different colored branches

Getting older is the single biggest risk factor for cancer. But WHY is that the case?

It turns out that the genetic changes that ultimately lead to cancer can form MANY years before the cancer is detected. Researchers looking at an older (63 yr old) and a younger (34 yr old) patient with blood cancers were able to compare the genes of normal and cancer cells in trace the genetic changes all the way back to the original mutation in a gene known to cause blood cancer. 

In the 63 yr old patient, they estimate that the original change occurred when the patient was 19 years old. For the 34 yr old patient, the original mutation arose when the person was only about 9 yrs old!

Knowing that cancer can take many years to form, and exactly which changes to look for, will empower future doctors to detect cancer earlier and earlier - perhaps before the abnormal cells even become fully cancerous.

Image Credit
Derivative of a Wikimedia Commons image.