Cancer rates vary wildly across the world, and we don’t know why. To solve this mystery, scientists are tracking down causes of cancer by the fingerprints they leave in the genome. In this feature for Mosaic, Kat Arney explains how researchers are unravelling this biological whodunnit.
If you want to dive deeper into this topic, here’s some further reading. We’ve broken things down into key subtopics, but otherwise these links aren’t listed in any particular order – so feel free to dip in and out.
The Mutographs of Cancer project
The Mutographs of Cancer project, funded by Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge, is identifying cancer-causing factors through the mutational signatures they leave in human DNA.
The Wellcome Sanger Institute’s website offers a useful summary of this project, covering its background, research methods and specific aims. More information can be found on Cancer Research UK’s website.
This 2013 paper explains the theoretical model that was developed by the scientists in order to describe the signatures of mutational processes taking place in cancer.
This 2016 Guardian article draws on the research of Professor David Phillips – who has worked on the Mutographs of Cancer project – to reveal the extent of DNA damage caused by tobacco.
Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge
The Mutographs of Cancer was one of four projects to receive £20 million in the first round of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge. Watch this video for a short introduction to the Grand Challenge and its mission.
You can find out more about the Grand Challenge on Cancer Research UK’s website.
This 2017 paper investigates why rates of oesophageal cancer are so high in Kenya, particularly among young people, and offers suggestions for future prevention.
Within Kenya, oesophageal cancer is particularly common in the Rift Valley. This article for Business Daily explores why this might be the case.
ESCCAPE was set up by Kenyan epidemiologist Diana Menya to compare the environments and lifestyles of people with and without oesophageal cancer. Read about its aims and methods here.
In this video, created by Macmillan Cancer Support, consultant thoracic surgeon Karen Harrison-Phillips explains the symptoms of oesophageal cancer, as well as how it is tested for and the treatments available.
More information is available on Macmillan’s website. In the UK, Macmillan Cancer Support can be reached for free, Monday–Friday, 09.00–20.00, on 0808 808 00 00.
Read more Mosaic stories on genomics
There are between 6,000 and 8,000 known rare diseases, many of which affect children’s development. In ‘Searching for a diagnosis: how scientists are untangling the mystery of developmental disorders’, Linda Geddes explores the pioneering project that is showing how, 17 years since the first draft of the human genome, our genes are giving up their secrets and bringing hope to parents around the world.Newsletter:
Science, mostly, progresses iteratively. But every now and then, a discovery will be made – often incidental to the main aim of the research – that is entirely unexpected. In ‘You won’t believe these three unexpected discoveries – and neither did the scientists who made them’, researchers at one of the UK’s leading genetics centres tell us about their serendipitous findings.
Read more Mosaic stories on cancer
Sue Armstrong reports on the startling discovery that hundreds of thousands of Brazilians have a genetic mutation that undermines their ability to resist cancer. ‘Brazil’s cancer curse’ investigates another case of a so-called cancer hotspot.
In ‘How the mafia is causing cancer’, Ian Birrell considers another environment-specific cause of cancer. In rural Italy, doctors began to notice that a surge in cancer rates was due to industrial waste being dumped by local crime syndicates.