Cancer is not as heritable as once thought, study shows

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Scientists from the University of Alberta found that while cancer is a genetic disease, the genetic component is just one piece of the puzzle—and researchers need to consider environmental and metabolic factors as well.

The research is published in Metabolites and was conducted by David Wishart et al.

Nearly all the theories about the causes of cancer that have emerged over the past several centuries can be sorted into three larger groups.

The first is cancer as a genetic disease, focusing on the genome, or the set of genetic instructions that you are born with.

The second is cancer as an environmental disease, focusing on the exposome, which includes everything your body is exposed to throughout your life.

The third is cancer as a metabolic disease, focusing on the metabolome, all the chemical byproducts of the process of metabolism.

The metabolic perspective hasn’t had much research until now, but it’s gaining the interest of more scientists, who are beginning to understand the metabolome’s role in cancer.

The genome, exposome and metabolome operate together in a feedback loop as cancer develops and spreads.

According to the data, heritable cancers account for just five to 10 percent of all cancers. The other 90 to 95 percent are initiated by factors in the exposome, which in turn trigger genetic mutations.

The team says the metabolome is critical to the process, as those genetically mutated cancer cells are sustained by the cancer-specific metabolome.

Cancer is genetic, but often the mutation itself isn’t enough. As cancer develops and spreads in the body, it creates its own environment and introduces certain metabolites.

The multi-omics perspective, in which the genome, exposome and metabolome are all considered in unison when thinking about cancer, is showing promise for finding treatments and for overcoming the limitations of looking at only one of these factors.

But when considering cancer from the metabolic perspective, there are just four major metabolic types.

Rather than trying to find a treatment plan for one specific mutation combination amongst a million, determining the patient’s cancer metabolic type can immediately guide doctors in deciding on the best treatment for their specific cancer.

The team says that health-care providers still need a mix of therapeutics for cancer, and noted that a deeper understanding of the metabolome and its role in the cancer feedback loop is also critical to preventing cancer.

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