A single gene separates aggressive and non-aggressive lymphatic system cancer

June 29, 2014

For a rare form of cancer called thymoma, researchers have discovered a single gene defining the difference between a fast-growing tumor requiring aggressive treatment and a slow-growing tumor that doesn't require extensive therapy.

Thymoma is a cancer derived from the of the thymus, an organ critical to the lymphatic system where T-cells, or so-called "killer cells," mature. Very little is known about the role of the GTF2l in human tumors, but scientists from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute say almost all indolent (slow growing and non-aggressive) forms of thymoma they tested have the mutation. They report their finding in the current issue of Nature Genetics.

"Indolent thymomas seldom become aggressive, so the discovery that a single gene can identify tumors that do not need aggressive care is an important development for our patients," says the study's senior investigator, Giuseppe Giaccone, MD, PhD, associate director for clinical research at Georgetown Lombardi.

In addition to the clinical implications, the study is important because "it is highly unusual to find a single mutated gene that can define a class of tumors," he said. "Usually a substantial number of genes are involved. In fact, we also found that the more aggressive thymomas express well-known cancer genes found in other tumors—which might give us clues about novel treatment of these cancers."

The thymus is located in the chest behind the breastbone. Thymoma and a second type of cancer of the thymus called thymic carcinoma are rare. According to the National Cancer Institute, these cancers counted together make up for only .2 to 1.5 percent of all cancers— one case occurs in about every 700,000 individuals.

Most of the diagnosed patients have surgery, but, depending on the presumed aggressiveness of the , some patients will have radiation and/or chemotherapy in addition or instead of surgery. "The use of these treatments in thymomas is controversial, because we know some patients don't need , but until now, there's not been a clear way to know who those patients are," Giaccone says.

Explore further: Resistance to lung cancer targeted therapy can be reversed, study suggests

More information: A specific missense mutation in GTF2I occurs at high frequency in thymic epithelial tumors, Nature Genetics, DOI: 10.1038/ng.3016

Related Stories

'Achilles heel' of pancreatic cancer identified

May 1, 2014

A research team at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center reports that inhibiting a single protein completely shuts down growth of pancreatic cancer, a highly lethal disease with no effective therapy.

Recommended for you

New insights on triggering muscle formation

April 26, 2017

Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have identified a previously unrecognized step in stem cell-mediated muscle regeneration. The study, published in Genes and Development, provides new ...

Risk of obesity influenced by changes in our genes

April 25, 2017

These changes, known as epigenetic modifications, control the activity of our genes without changing the actual DNA sequence. One of the main epigenetic modifications is DNA methylation, which plays a key role in embryonic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.