Feature

A cancer legacy

Science  29 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6272, pp. 440-443
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6272.440

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Summary

An adult with cancer may have spent decades accumulating genetic abnormalities and suffering the effects of poor diet, smoking, and other environmental factors. But many people thought childhood cancers were freak events. In the last couple years, however, hundreds of youngsters with cancer have had the DNA in their noncancerous cells sequenced. These efforts are now turning up evidence that a sizable subset of childhood cancers are rooted in inherited genes, or mutations so soon after conception that they pervade every cell. The findings raise hopes that some cancers, either in children who survive their first bout or in their siblings and parents, could be prevented or caught early. But they also raise complicated questions about what to tell families, whether to screen other family members for certain mutations, and what to do if those relatives share them.

  • * Photography by Jeff Haller and Meggan Haller