WASHINGTON - A single rogue cell triggers prostate cancer, according to a study of 33 autopsies.
‘These were not your average autopsies,’ said G. Steven Bova, assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins.
‘We dissected every bit of tumour - in the primary and metastatic (spreading) sites - and recorded exactly where each piece of tissue came from, analysed it, and data based the findings.’
Bova estimates that he and his colleagues examined 150,000 slides and 30,000 blocks of tissue, over a study lasting 14 years.
‘Much is unclear and appears chaotic about how cancer spreads, but analyzing genetic markers allows us to trace its roots backward, somewhat like ancestry,’ said Bova.
Clues to finding the genetic culprit for cancer spread are hidden in the changes that occur in a cell’s DNA. DNA is the alphabetical code made up of chemicals that guide the everyday life of a cell.
Cancers are caused by alterations in the DNA code that occur in a variety of ways: making errors in the nucleotide alphabet through mutations, changing the balance of chemicals attached to the on/off switches of genes, and altering the number of gene copies in a cell.
When the number of gene copies is disrupted in a cell beyond the customary two copies inherited from each parent, a gene’s function can be damaged.
This process, called copy number variation, can set the stage for unchecked cell growth and spread, a hallmark of cancer, said a Johns Hopkins statement. These findings were published online April 12 in Nature Medicine.