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Scientists Unraveling the Cancer Genome

Scientists from 10 countries are working to unravel the genetic codes behind several types of common cancers, reports the BBC. The cancer maps will revolutionize the way cancers are treated, allowing for blood tests to spot tumors earlier and introducing new drugs, says the Wellcome Trust, a British charity that funds medical research.

"Like molecular archaeologists, these researchers have dug through layers of genetic information to uncover the history of these patients' disease," Professor Carlos Caldas, of Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute, told the BBC.

Scientists from the International Cancer Genome Consortium have broken up the cancers by country. The U.S. is working on brain, ovary and pancreatic cancers, the U.K. on breast cancer, India on mouth, Japan on liver, and China on stomach.

"These catalogues are going to change the way we think about individual cancers," said Professor Michael Stratton, the lead researcher in the U.K. "By identifying all the cancer genes we will be able to develop new drugs that target the specific mutated genes and work out which patients will benefit from these novel treatments."

Already, scientists have decoded lung and skin cancer. They found 23,000 errors in the DNA code for lung cancer, mostly caused by cigarette smoke, and 30,000 errors in the DNA code for melanoma, caused by exposure to the sun.

"Most of the time the mutations will land in innocent parts of the genome, but some will hit the right targets for cancer," said Wellcome Trust researcher Dr. Peter Campbell, who did the research on lung cancer. He added that people who quit smoking can put their risk of cancer back to normal.

Scientists say they expect it will take at least five years and hundreds of thousands of dollars before they crack all of the cancer's genomes.

Read more at the BBC.