Analysis of thousands of tumors from NHS patients has identified a ‘treasure trove’ of new clues about the causes of cancer.
In the biggest study of its kind, researchers at Cambridge University Hospitals looked at the genomes of more than 12,000 people with cancer in England.
They spotted 58 new patterns in their DNA, called mutational signatures, suggesting there are causes that scientists are not yet aware of.
The researchers hope the discovery will allow future studies to work out the root of these cancer-causing mutations.
Scientists were aware of just 51 mutational signatures before the new find, including changes caused by smoking or UV light.
Identifying these signatures also allow doctors to look at each patient’s tumor and match it to specific treatments and medications.
However, the patterns can only be detected in cancer patients who have had their whole genome sequenced by scientists — which isn’t routinely done.
Professor Serena Nik-Zainal, a genomic expert who led the study, said these patterns are like ‘fingerprints at a crime scene’.
She said the findings could indicate an ‘Achilles heel’ in individual cancers that could be targeted with treatment.