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Ann Arbor - A 10-year study involving thousands of Israeli Jews and Arabs, led by researchers
from American and Israeli institutions, has yielded important new information in the search for the genes that
make a person more likely to develop colon cancer.
Stephen Gruber, M.D., Ph.D.
In a paper to be published in the July issue of
Cancer Biology and Therapy
, the international research team reports finding a significant link between
genetic variation in a single region of human chromosome 8 and the risk of colorectal cancer.
The link was found by detailed comparisons of genetic material from thousands of colon cancer patients and
non-patients, and by evaluating the incidence of colon cancer among the immediate family members of colon cancer
In all, people who carry the specific genetic variation, called a marker, were found to be 23 percent more likely
to have colon cancer than individuals without the marker. The researchers estimate that this single genetic variation
might account for 14 percent of colorectal cancer cases in Israel, where colon cancer is the leading cause of cancer
deaths. The specific marker is called the C allele of rs10505477.
Three other research teams are reporting similar findings today in the journal
Nature Genetics, having
simultaneously found their way to the same small area of chromosome 8, called 8q24, in the search for colon cancer
genetic links. The fact that these studies were performed among other populations around the world suggests that
this one genetic marker is highly influential across ethnic groups.
The new Cancer Biology and Therapy paper is by an international group of scientists from the
Michigan Medical School and U-M School of Public Health, the
Catalan Institute of Oncology in Spain, the
CHS National Israeli Cancer Control Center and Technion - the
Israel Institute of Technology.
It's the product of an ongoing Michigan-Israel collaboration, the Molecular Epidemiology of Colorectal Cancer
project, which for 10 years has searched for clues to colon cancer's genetic roots using samples from large numbers
of people in Israel with known ancestral heritage. The project is funded by the
National Cancer Institute, with
additional funding from the Irving Weinstein Foundation.
The researchers compared the genetic makeup and family history of more than 1,800 colorectal cancer patients with
that of 1,900 healthy people with the same breakdown of age, gender and ethnicity - either Ashkenazi Jew,
Sephardic Jew or Arab/non-Jew. Samples of tumor tissue from many cancer patients were also tested.
The genetic link between the marker and colon cancer was especially strong among patients diagnosed with colon
cancer at a young age, under 50 years.
Stephen Gruber, M.D., Ph.D., the
co-leader of the Michigan-Israeli team and first author of the new paper, says
that the new finding is particularly interesting when considered alongside recent discoveries in the genetics of
prostate and breast cancer.
"The same genetic region that predisposes to colon cancer has also recently been shown to be an important region
predisposing to breast cancer and prostate cancer," he says. "The specific genetic cause for this joint
susceptibility to three different cancers has not yet been discovered, but several groups are working to
close in on the mechanism that might cause these cancers."
Gruber is an associate professor of internal medicine and of human genetics in the U-M Medical School, and of
epidemiology in the U-M School of Public Health. He directs the Cancer Genetics program in the U-M Comprehensive
Cancer Center, which focuses on inherited cancer risks.
Genetic discovery in Israel through MECC has already proven highly informative. Senior author
Gad Rennert M.D., Ph.D., of the Carmel Medical Center and the B. Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at Technion in Haifa,
Israel, says "The study of populations in Israel has been shown to be exceptionally fruitful in contributing to
knowledge about the genetics of leading cancers. This is due to the unique characteristics of the population and
our ability to study it in a representative manner."
Unraveling the mysteries of the susceptibility to disease is moving rapidly since the publication of the
complete sequence of the human genome in 2003. Says Gruber, "The mystery of the relationship between our
genetic code and disease is now starting to become clear, and many scientists are turning to the same chapter to
find important clues to colorectal cancer." He and his colleagues plan to continue their effort to zero in on the
genetic variations involved in cancer.
While there is not yet a screening test for the genetic variation that was pinpointed in the study, Gruber and
his co-authors emphasize that genetic testing is available for other known genetic variations linked to colorectal
cancer. People with a strong family history of colon cancer, especially cases that began when relatives were younger
than age 50, should get genetic counseling and have colonoscopies or other screening tests starting earlier in life
than age 50.
"Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, and the good news is that it's largely
preventable with early screening," says Gruber. The American Cancer Society estimates that some 150,000 new cases
of colon cancer will be diagnosed in 2007, and more than 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer will occur.
Although most cancers are not "inherited," some families are particularly susceptible to cancer and may benefit
from early detection or other risk reduction strategies. People concerned about a family history of cancer, or those
who have been diagnosed with colon cancer before age 50 or after having two or more relatives diagnosed with the
disease, should talk to their doctor about the possible benefits of genetic counseling, Gruber says. Counseling
can be done for both patients and family members.
In addition to Gruber and Rennert, the new paper's co-authors are Victor Moreno of U-M and the Catalan Institute
of Oncology in Spain, Laura S. Rozek of U-M Hematology/Oncology, Hedy Rennert and Flavio Lejbkowicz of CHS National
Cancer Control Center and Technion, Joseph D. Bonner, formerly of U-M and now at Michigan State University, and
Joel K. Greenson, Thomas J. Giordano and Eric R. Fearon of the U-M Department of Pathology.
For more information on colon cancer, genetic counseling for cancer and colonoscopy, call the U-M Cancer AnswerLine™ toll-free at 800-865-1125 or the Colorectal Cancer Detection and Prevention
Written by Nicole Fawcett
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