Cancer Etiology

In cancer, it's not just about the genes

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Science  07 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6346, pp. 44-45
DOI: 10.1126/science.357.6346.44-e

After a decade of productive cancer genome projects, few experts would question the role of genetics in human cancer. Yet environmental factors also contribute. One intriguing hypothesis is that carriers of certain genetic alterations develop cancer because they are less able to cope with environmental or endogenous carcinogens. Tan et al. identified a gene-environment interaction involving BRCA2, a protein that functions to maintain genomic integrity. Inherited mutations in one copy of BRCA2 confer susceptibility to several cancers, including breast cancer. The authors found that exposure of cultured cells to naturally occurring levels of formaldehyde or acetaldehyde induces selective degradation of wild-type BRCA2 protein. This could exacerbate the effect of heterozygous BRCA2 mutations and result in the accumulation of cancer-causing mutations.

Cell 169, 1105 (2017).

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