Scientists have identified thousands of previously ignored genetic mutations that, although rare, likely contribute to cancer growth. The findings, which could help pave the way to new treatments, are published in PLOS Computational Biology.

Thomas Peterson, at the University of Maryland, and colleagues developed a new statistical analysis approach that uses genetic data from cancer patients to find cancer-causing mutations. Unlike previous studies that focused on mutations in individual genes, the new approach addresses similar mutations shared by families of related proteins.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: As cancer research continues its focus on genetic mutations, I remain convinced that the vast majority of cancers (over 90%) are not caused by genetic alterations at all. Rather, they are caused by a change in the metabolism, or energy production, in cells which occur as a result of insults to the cell. These insults come in the form of a variety of harmful exposures, including but not limited to, pesticides in our food, toxins in the air we breathe, chemicals in our homes, and stress in our lives. These exposures damage our normal, healthy cells and change the way they function, which ultimately leads to a change in how these cells make energy (i.e., their metabolism). Left with no viable options to survive, these cells mutate into¬†cancerous cells.

The genetic changes we see in cancer are almost always a symptom, rather than a cause. Thus, the genetic search for a cure for cancer is likely to continue to be unsuccessful, because investigators are looking in the wrong place. Until we start looking farther upstream at the environmental causes, and the resulting changes in the way cells make energy, we will continue losing the war on cancer.