childhood cancer

Researchers from Germany identify the genetic alterations and patterns across multiple types of childhood cancer for personalized diagnosis and treatment.

Cancer cure rates have increased over time, but in developed countries childhood cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease in children over one year of age. Children who survive cancer often suffer through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.

In an effort to improve childhood cancer treatment, researchers are studying the types of genetic changes or mutations seen in all kinds of pediatric cancers. Because childhood cancers are often different on the cellular and molecular level from adult cancers, studies focused on pediatric cancers are necessary.

A group of German researchers sequenced 961 tumors from children, teens, and young adults and searched for genetic mutations. Within this group, all major childhood cancers and 24 distinct types of cancer were included. The researchers identified genes thought to be involved in pediatric cancers and compared their data to information in The Cancer Genome Atlas, a database of genetic information from adult cancer studies. They recently published their results in Nature.

Genetic alterations in 179 suspected cancer genes allowed the researchers to better understand how drugs may impact cancer treatments. Overall, the study found that almost 50% of pediatric tumors have genetic alterations in genes that are targeted by available or developing cancer treatments. Additionally, around 8% of children with cancer have a genetic predisposition for the disease. This may help doctors improve and employ genetic counseling for patients with high-risk cancer types.

This study offers a valuable resource of genetic data across a wide range of childhood cancers and should help improve therapies for children in the future. The results indicate that personalized profiling is important in childhood cancer to increase diagnostic accuracy and treatment effectiveness.

Written by Cindi A. Hoover, Ph.D.

Reference: The landscape of genomic alterations across childhood cancers. Nature. 2018. doi:10.1038/nature25480

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