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New study suggests the key to treating cancer may lie in its genetics

(National Institutes of Health)

New genetic research on lung cancer may help open the door to more targeted cancer treatments.

A national consortium of scientists has mapped and analyzed genetic mutations in squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of lung cancer.

Washington University helped lead the study. Richard Wilson, who directs the Wash U Genome Institute, says some of the lung cancer mutations identified in the study were the same as mutations found in other types of cancer, suggesting that doctors need to move away from treating the disease based on what organ or tissue it affects.

“Oncologists will have a particular expertise in breast, or lung, or colon cancer,” Wilson explains. “What we’re saying is that quite often, it’s going to be more effective to understand what genetic type of tumor a patient has.”

Wilson says this study supports the idea that treatments should be tailored to a cancer’s genetics, and not to where it first appears in the body.

“We’ve got to get to a point where we’re able to use breast cancer drugs for lung cancer, and vice versa,” Wilson says.

Wilson calls cancer “a disease of the genome,” and says the medical community needs to start treating it that way.

The research is published in the journal Nature.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience