To the surprise of scientists, the most dangerous cancers of the uterine lining closely resemble the worst ovarian and breast cancers, raising the tantalizing possibility that the three deadly cancers might respond to the same drugs.
This finding, part of a major new study, is the best evidence yet that cancer will increasingly be seen as a disease defined by its genetic fingerprint rather than by the organ where it originated, researchers say.
The study of endometrial cancer – a cancer of the uterine lining – and another of acute myeloid leukemia, published simultaneously on Wednesday by Nature and the New England Journal of Medicine, are part of a sprawling, ambitious project by the National Institutes of Health to scrutinize DNA aberrations in common cancers. The endometrial cancer and leukemia efforts alone involved more than 100 researchers who studied close to 400 endometrial tumors and 200 leukemias.
“This is exploring the landscape of cancer genomics,” said Dr. David P. Steensma, a leukemia researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who was not involved with the studies. “Many developments in medicine are about treatments or tests that are only useful for a certain period of time until something better comes by. But this is something that will be useful 200 years from now. This is a landmark that will stand the test of time.”
Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecological cancer in American women and strikes nearly 50,000 of them a year, killing about 8,000. Acute myeloid leukemia, the most prevalent adult leukemia, is diagnosed in about 14,000 Americans a year and kills about 10,000.
The acute myeloid leukemia study identified virtually all of the common genetic malfunctions that occur in it, providing a new foundation for assessing which cancers will be lethal unless the patient gets a risky bone marrow transplant and which can be treated with chemotherapy alone.
Dr. Timothy Ley and Richard Wilson of Washington University in St. Louis led the study.
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