Colon and rectal tumours are the same type of cancer, according to researchers who conducted genetic analyses of cancer tissue specimens.
The researchers, from the Cancer Genome Atlas project, also identified new genetic mutations that may contribute to colorectal cancer.
The findings, published online in the journal Nature, one day may lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer, the researchers said.
How the research was done
In the 224 colorectal cancer specimens analysed, 24 genes were mutated in a significant number of cases. In addition to genes previously identified as potential "drivers" of colorectal cancer when mutated, the researchers identified three new genes that may also be involved in this disease.
The researchers also identified two other genes that are mutated or "overexpressed" in colorectal cancer and may prove to be potential targets for new drugs.
The National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute, both parts of the US National Institutes of Health, funded the study.
"This finding of the true genetic nature of colon and rectal cancers is an important achievement in our quest to understand the foundations of this disease," Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said in a government news release. "The data and knowledge gained here have the potential to change the way we diagnose and treat certain cancers."
Dr Harold Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute, added, "While it may take years to translate this foundational genetic data on colorectal cancers into new therapeutic strategies and surveillance methods, this genetic information unquestionably will be the springboard for determining what will be useful clinically against colorectal cancers."
More than 143 000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and more than 51,000 will die of the disease. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Treatment of cancer
The American Cancer Society has more about colorectal cancer.
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