Cancer development is dependent on precise genetic mutations that enable cells to grow uncontrollably and evade the immune system. Although decades of research has identified thousands of cancerous mutations, we have yet to identify which are true drivers of cancer, nor the required number of driver mutations that must occur in other genes. However, recent findings by Martincorena et al. 2017 (Cell) provides new data on this widely debated topic.
In the study, researchers investigated 7,664 tumours across 29 cancers types to better understand which “driver mutations” promote the development of cancer. The study revealed on average, tumours consist of approximately four driver mutations, ranging from ten mutations for colorectal cancer, four mutations for breast or liver cancer, and just one to drive thyroid and testicular cancer. This evidence suggests only a few driver mutations in specific genes are responsible for giving rise to cancerous cell lines.
There are currently several developed drugs that act by targeting specific mutations in various cancer lines. Although this research provides greater insight on cancer development, further research is needed to fully understand the progression of this disease. In the future, genome sequencing approaches could in clinical practice to identify specific mutations that drive a patient’s cancer and appropriate targeted therapies for intervention.