In Cancer Biology, our researchers work to reveal and understand the various steps that drive a normal cell to become a cancer cell and how these changes—that often vary from cancer to cancer—impact how a cancer grows, spreads and responds to different types of therapy. From molecular genetic alterations—those that change cells by mutating its DNA—to epigenetic alterations—those that change cells by altering the chemical environment of DNA—investigators are uncovering and gaining new understanding about key genes, biochemical processes, and molecular pathways cancers use to develop, grow and spread. Exciting new findings have a direct impact on prevention and treatment. Recent advances include novel screening tests that can detect cancer DNA in a small sample of blood or other body fluids and alert doctors to the earliest presence of cancer. These tests could also be used to monitor treatment responses and to signal cancer recurrence. Molecular genetic and epigenetic changes are also being used as biomarkers for precision, or personalized, medicine approaches that guide screening and treatment. These biomarkers can pinpoint individuals with alterations that may put them at greater risk for cancer, distinguish benign cysts, polyps, and tumors from malignant ones, and steer clinicians to therapies that will work best—and away from those that are unlikely to work—for each patient. Investigators in the Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics Program collaborate with researchers in other programs, including Cancer Immunology and Cancer Prevention and Control, and use these collaborative discoveries to advance the progress against virtually every type of cancer.
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