The Loh Down On Science

How tumors are like evil snowflakes: No two are alike

Sunny days for us due to . . . stormy days for cancer?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, talking cancer climates.

See, in cancer, a cell's DNA develops mistakes, or mutations.  These cause the cell to grow into abnormal clumps, AKA tumors.  In looking at tumor DNA, cancer researcher Charles Swanton noticed something:  The mutations varied in different parts of the tumor.

It’s kind of like how a city has different microclimates, say misty on the west side and hot and dry on the east.

Swanton's team found that only about half the mutations lived in all the samples; the rest were spread around different neighborhoods.  So it’s possible that, like evil snowflakes, no two tumors are alike.

And this good news, why?  Well, different cancer therapies target different mutations.  It's useful knowing that a treatment that works in one tumor microclimate might not fare so well in another.  

And soon doctors may be able to customize treatments for all the microclimates of a patient’s cancer.

With better reliability than the weather report, we trust!

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