October 27, 2014 | by Valerie Zapanta
Genetics, genes, genome, genetic risk ... Such terms are becoming increasingly familiar to even nonresearchers as studies and information about the human make-up become more extensive and more critical. At City of Hope, these words have long been part of our vocabulary. Researchers and physicians are studying patients' personal cancer risks, taking into account family history and genetics, along with environmental and lifestyle factors, and then helping patients understand those risks.
To further explain the connection between genes and cancer, City of Hope will host an Ask the Experts program, "Cancer: Is it in my genes?" on Nov. 11 at the Duarte, California, campus. Moderator Linda H. Malkas, Ph.D., deputy director of basic research and a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, will lead the panel discussion.
The featured City of Hope speakers are Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of medical quality; Sofia Wang, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Population Sciences; and Susan Neuhausen, Ph.D., The Morris & Horowitz Families Professor in Cancer Etiology & Outcomes Research in the Department of Population Sciences.
Here, Neuhausen, who has an extensive background in genetics research, explains genes' role in cancer – and gives a preview of the Nov. 11 event.
What is your area of expertise? Could you explain what you do?
My research is focused on identifying genes and environmental stressors that cause or increase susceptibility to cancer. My training was in genetics, and I was fortunate to work at the University of Utah with a research group performing the genotyping to hone in on the exact location of the BRCA gene. BRCA1 was identified in 1994, BRCA2 was localized in 1995 and then found in 1996.
What is the importance of genetics to cancer?
The majority of disease has a genetic component. The genetic component can be rare germline mutations that cause inherited disease or more common somatic mutations that cause cancer to grow within the specific tissue/organ.
What are some common questions people have about cancer and how it's inked to our genes?
Commons questions I get are, if a person is carrying a bad mutation in a cancer gene, will he or she eventually develop that cancer and other cancers? If I have no family history of breast cancer on my mother’s side of the family, does that mean I won’t get breast cancer? Also, are gene mutations becoming more common? These questions and more will be covered on Nov. 11.
How do you see the knowledge of genes and cancer evolving in the next 20 years?
We know so much more about the role of genetics in cancer than we knew 10 years ago. We are able to test for inherited mutations and provide genetic cancer risk assessment and preventive options. We are able to identify specific genetic defects in the cancer, and use targeted treatments against those defects. I expect that in the next 20 years, we will have found more keys to unlock the mystery of cancer in order to both prevent it and if it develops, to better treat it so that it is cured or it is a low-level chronic disease.
*** Seats are limited, so reserve your seat today by signing up now for the Nov. 11 Ask the Experts program, "Cancer:Is it in my genes?" You can also watch the program live on our YouTube channel. Have a question for our panel? Let us know in the comments.