Defining genes of risk and benefit
More than 80 percent of all lung cancer cases occur in people who have smoked cigarettes, but what accounts for the fact that only a small percentage of tobacco users will develop the disease? Why are some people more at risk?
That's one of the central issues being researched at the Department of Epidemiology, along with its corollary: why do some people with lung cancer fare better with treatment than others?
Now expand these questions into other tobacco-associated cancers such as those that occur in the bladder, kidney and esophagus, and to other non-smoking related cancers such as melanoma, brain, prostate and lymphoma, and that gives you an idea of the mission that Department Chair Margaret Spitz, M.D., has undertaken since 1995. "Although an element of chance is likely to play a role in the complex, multi-step process leading to cancer development, there is mounting evidence that genetic factors also influence susceptibility to cancer-causing exposures," she says.
Finding those genetic factors that determine risk of developing cancer, as well as those that confer benefit from treatment, is the focus of the 213 employees in the department - the largest in the division.
"The diversity of human beings is remarkable," Spitz says. "The fact that some smokers develop lung cancer while others don't suggests that there are differences among smokers in susceptibility to the cancer-causing compounds in cigarettes.
"Individuals respond differently to environmental exposures," she says. "They process chemicals differently, and they have a wide range of susceptibility to the u
Contact: Nancy Jensen
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center