It takes many years for cancers to develop, and gene alterations could be detected long before tumors grow and spread to other parts of the body, Vogelstein noted.
"Almost all tumors, probably even those of the brain and pancreas, would be curable if they could be caught early," Vogelstein said. "One focus of future research should be to emphasize early detection using the genes and pathways that have been discovered to play a role in these tumor types," he said.
Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, noted that genetic alterations may be different in different cancers and even among people with the same cancers.
"This [new research] reinforces the thought that we will eventually get to a point where we will be able to take a specimen from an individual's cancer and look at the genetic changes in the cancer and use that information and apply it to treatment that would be specific for that person's cancer," Lichtenfeld said.
However, one cancer geneticist said the new studies were too small to offer any firm conclusions.
"It's a bit disappointing that so many of the mutations in these genes have already been known. There seems to be a paucity of really new findings," said Dr. Charis Eng, the Sondra J. and Stephen R. Hardis Chair of Cancer Genomic Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and a professor at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
"Sample sizes need to be increased, clinical annotation has to be better," she added. "This has to be done in a true international collaboration. Even then, I think, we will come up with more questions than answers."
For more on cancer and genetics, visit the American Cancer Society.
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