Cancer is not a disease…it is many many diseases. Some cancers come about gradually, while others can occur from a single catastrophic cellular event, according to a recent paper.
Most cancers are believed to progress through a series of genetic changes that gradually allows cells to become cancerous and spread. These genetic changes are random, but can be pushed along by carcinogens or DNA repair problems. Sometimes, though, there can be big pulses of genetic change that encourage cancer progression, and a recent paper describes how single catastrophic cellular events can cause major genomic rearrangements that quickly lead to cancer. In this paper, Stephens and colleagues found multiple cancer samples with tens to hundreds of genomic rearrangements that were caused by a single catastrophic event, and termed this phenomenon “chromothripsis.” Evidence of chromothripsis can be found in at least 2-3% of all cancers, including many subtypes, and in about 25% of bone cancers. Images above show chromosomes from a renal cancer cell line, with chromosome 5 marked with different fluorescent probes that find specific genomic regions. Compared to the normal chromosome 5, the derivative chromosome 5 has gross rearrangements suggesting chromothripsis, as seen by the close juxtaposition of all of the fluorescent probes.Stephens, P., Greenman, C., Fu, B., Yang, F., Bignell, G., Mudie, L., Pleasance, E., Lau, K., Beare, D., & Stebbings, L. (2011). Massive Genomic Rearrangement Acquired in a Single Catastrophic Event during Cancer Development Cell, 144 (1), 27-40 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.11.055
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