Genetic Abnormalities and Cancer

Cancer may be caused either by environmental factors, or by genetic abnormalities. Environmental factors would include becoming exposed to toxic substances for significant periods of time.

What makes a time period ‘significant’ is much debated, though it is becoming clearer that long-term exposure of even small doses of toxins as inhalants, and substances consumed by mouth or absorbed into the skin can be detrimental to health. Such toxic substances, or carcinogens, are found all around us in everyday products, as well as in our human-altered environment. A short list would include tobacco smoke, smog, pesticides, formaldehyde, paradichlorobenzene, and perchloroethylene, the last three of which are found in a shocking number of household cleaning products, beauty products and personal hygiene products.

Cancer can also be caused by genetic abnormalities, and recent advances in genome research have discovered much in this field. In fact, according to research done in 2004, led by Dr. Henry Heng of Wayne State University School of Medicine, “genomic instability plays a principle role in cancer initiating, progression, and response to chemotherapeutic agents.” This opens the possibility that not only can your genetic predisposition and possible genetic abnormalities predict whether or not you are likely to get cancer to begin with, your genetics will also have a say in how you respond to cancer, how fast it may spread in your body, and how well you respond to the chemotherapy intended to destroy the cancer cells and bring the rest of your body back to into a healthy balance.

With current medical technology, there is not much widespread successful treatment of genetic disorders, including cancer. Gene therapy, a system of inserting healthy genes, or alleles, to replace the mutant ones, has enjoyed some moderate success in research. In fact, most gene therapy research does focus on cancer. No matter the initial cause of cancer, the cancer itself, a mutant and out of control reproduction of certain cells that then lack the ability to die, is a misfire of certain DNA in those cells themselves who replicate that misfire every time they reproduce. Whatever the initial cause of cancer, it is a prime candidate for gene therapy.

The first study to show that gene therapy can have success in combating cancer occurred in 2006, in a study with two patients in Bethesda, Maryland, at the National Institute of Health. This study demonstrated success in treating metastatic melanoma by using T cells genetically retargeted to attack the cancer cells.