Some rare forms of ovarian, uterine and testicular cancer share a mutation in one particular gene, researchers have found.
The finding suggests mutations in this gene, known as DICER, play a direct role in initiating the development of some types of cancer. If further studies confirm the finding, the researchers said, these seemingly unrelated cancer types might all benefit from the same treatment.
The study also reveals how the sequencing of cancer genomes may change the management of cancer. Instead of thinking of cancer in terms of the particular organ that develops the disease, researchers can start thinking of it in terms of its genetic code.
"We can start treating these patients based upon the mutations that exist," rather than the tissue it arises from, said study researcher Gregg Morin of the BC Cancer Agency in Vancouver, Canada.
Different tumors, same gene
Morin and colleagues sequenced genes from rare types of ovarian, testicular and uterine tumors. They found mutations in DICER in 30 percent of all the tumors.
DICER interacts with tiny pieces of genetic material called microRNAs. Normally, the main function of microRNAs in cells is to turn off, or "silence," specific genes. But when DICER is mutated and interacts with microRNA, the result may be cellular chaos.
The next step is to figure out exactly how the DICER mutation leads to cancer. With this knowledge, researchers might be able to find an existing therapy to treat these cancers, Morin said.
Although it would take much longer, another possibility is that researchers could develop a treatment that targets the mutation itself, Morin said.
It's possible DICER is involved in other types of cancer, and this possibility should be investigated, Morin said.
The study is published today (Dec. 21) in the issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Pass it on: A mutation in a gene known as DICER may be involved in the development of rare forms of ovarian, testicular and uterine tumors.