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Breast Cancer: The Big Picture Emerges

Courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory  IDENTIFYING NEW CANCER GENES: (1) Clinicians biopsy cancerous (left) and normal (right) tissues from patient. (2) DNA microarrays containing thousands of individual human genes are exposed to a mixture of labeled dna samples. (3) Red spots indicate genes amplified in cancer cells, green spots show genes deleted. (4) Both classes of genes become potential targets for new diagnostic or therapeutic anti-cancer strategies. In 1994, discovery of the

Ricki Lewis
Courtesy of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
 IDENTIFYING NEW CANCER GENES: (1) Clinicians biopsy cancerous (left) and normal (right) tissues from patient. (2) DNA microarrays containing thousands of individual human genes are exposed to a mixture of labeled dna samples. (3) Red spots indicate genes amplified in cancer cells, green spots show genes deleted. (4) Both classes of genes become potential targets for new diagnostic or therapeutic anti-cancer strategies.

In 1994, discovery of the breast cancer 1 (BRCA1) gene fueled media reports of a single cause behind a single disease. Since then, a far more complex story has emerged, with evidence for both single genes contributing great effects, and many genes with small but additive effects. Many molecular roads, scientists now know, lead to breast cancer.

Only 5% of breast cancers are the consequence of germline mutations in a single gene. More commonly, cancers arise as somatic mutations, and...

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