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Cancer's Genetic Code Cracked

Scientists Map Breast, Colon Cancers' 'Genetic Landscape'

Complex Cancer Game Plan continued...

The complexity is intimidating but not totally unexpected. It simply means there won't be a magic bullet. Researchers will have to look at each kind of cancer to tease out treatment targets.

This isn't bad news -- it's biology, says Harold J. Burstein, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

"If you are the Army Corps of Engineers rebuilding New Orleans, you need to know how many weak links you have in the levees," Burstein tells WebMD. "If you guess four or five, and it's 20, you have not fixed the problem. So if in cancer, you look only at four or five genes and there really are a dozen, you have a problem."

Burstein notes that the study wasn't able to say which mutations happen in which order. He says it's possible many of the mutations occur only after the tumor is growing wildly, and it may yet be possible to pinpoint a smaller number of truly significant mutations.

"The transformation from normal cells to cancer cells is still a complicated problem," Burstein says. "What we hope we have here is a roadmap to help us go after them."

Where that roadmap eventually will lead is to a new generation of targeted cancer therapies, says Parsons.

"New cancer treatments like Gleevec for leukemialeukemia, and Herceptin for breast cancer, are based on knowing the genetic basis of these cancers," Parson's says. "We will be able to come up with more of these treatments based on the huge amount of information that will become available from studies like this."

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