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Genetic Map of Certain Cancers Discovered; Cancer Rate Drops

Medical researchers have created the first genetic map of colon and breast cancer, revealing that nearly 200 mutated genes that were previously unknown help tumors grow and spread. Meanwhile, breast cancer rates in the United States have started to fall.

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    The news is promising on two fronts. The journal Science reports that researchers have made important discoveries about the genetic underpinnings of cancer.

    Meanwhile, an annual report indicates, the death rates from cancer in the United States continue to fall. And new diagnoses of some cancers, notably breast cancer, may have leveled off.

    Here to tell us more is health correspondent Susan Dentzer. Our Health Unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    Susan, let's start with the genetic research here. Now, the background to this is new awareness that cancer is, at its core, a genetic disease, right?


    That's right, Jeff, that it starts with changes in genes, mutations or other changes that take place. And that's the premise behind something called the Cancer Genome Atlas, which is a large federally funded project getting under way, under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health, to essentially draw up a catalogue of all of the genetic changes that can take place that can lead to cancer.

    We know we have about 30,000 genes in the human body. Some unknown, but meaningful percentage of those can mutate or undergo other changes, which, in turn, lead to changes in cells, which, in turn, leads to cancers.

    So, if we can come up with this giant catalogue, we can really develop a very thorough understanding of what really causes cancer, at its genetic roots, and then come up with very targeted therapies to attack those things that are actually matched to the genetic roots of an individual cancer.

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