Page last updated at 23:11 GMT, Thursday, 14 August 2008 00:11 UK

Gene 'clue' to colorectal cancer

Genetic testing
The gene flaw was found in lab tests

A difference in the genes of up to a third of people with colorectal cancer could help solve how the disease passes between generations, scientists say.

The gene variant, which has a direct link to cell growth in the colon, raises the risk of the disease by half, say the US scientists.

Their findings, published in the journal Science, move experts closer to genetic testing for bowel cancer risk.

Cancer Research UK said the findings needed to be verified by other studies.

There are approximately 36,000 cases of this cancer in the UK every year, and delays in diagnosis contribute to a death rate of almost 50%.

If confirmed in larger studies, this finding brings us another step closer towards unravelling the inherited risk of bowel cancer
Dr Lara Bennett
Cancer Research UK

The disease is thought to be partly due to genetics and partly due to lifestyle, diet and other factors.

The genetic variation was first discovered and linked to colon cancer back in 1999 by scientists at Northwestern University.

The latest research, conducted jointly with Ohio State University, analysed samples from 138 colon cancer patients and over 100 apparently healthy "control" volunteers.

Differences in the activity of the gene were noted in one-third of the colon cancer patients, but only three of the healthy volunteers.

Dr Boris Pasche, from Northwestern University, said: "This probably accounts for more colorectal cancer than all the other gene mutations discovered so far - the reasonable expectation is that this will save some lives."

Ohio State University researcher Albert de la Chapelle said that finding the mutation in a patient should prompt checks on their relatives for signs of the disease.

Cell growth

The genetic trait results in decreased production on the surface of cells of a receptor for TGF-beta, a chemical which inhibits cell growth.

The researchers said that the chemical might have an important role in the slowing or stopping of tumour development.

Dr Lara Bennett, from Cancer Research UK, said: "If confirmed in larger studies, this finding brings us another step closer towards unravelling the inherited risk of bowel cancer.

"Our growing understanding of bowel cancer genetics could ultimately lead to new tests to identify and monitor people who are at a greater risk of developing the disease."

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