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Cancer Invest. 1992;10(5):399-416.

Molecular biology in the diagnosis and prognosis of solid and lymphoid tumors.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030.


The application of molecular biology to the study of human malignancies has led to tremendous gains in our understanding of their pathogenesis. Although their practical applications are still somewhat limited at this point, the use of molecular diagnostic tools is likely to grow at a very rapid rate as newer and more accurate prognostic markers are identified. The availability of reliable prognostic markers should allow earlier intervention in patients with aggressive disease but exhibiting only limited extent of disease at the time of initial diagnosis. Early intervention in such cases could realistically increase the probability of cure, since highly aggressive tumor cells are more likely to be eliminated by early institution of cytotoxic chemotherapy (4). The p53 tumor suppressor gene clearly represents the most promising potential prognostic marker at present, because of both the multiple phenotypic alterations caused by different p53 mutations and the high frequency of p53 mutations which have been observed in a variety of human cancers. Other prognostic markers related to oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes are almost certain to follow. Validation of new prognostic markers requires a knowledge of both histopathologic diagnostic criteria as well as the consequences for the patient of each diagnosis. There is bound to be some "shake-out" in the field of molecular diagnostics just as there was with other recently introduced techniques such as immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry which were found to provide additional useful information for some tumors and not for others. Since the clinical-pathologic studies needed for verification of putative prognostic markers require relatively long periods of follow up, progress in this area will almost certainly lag behind the ability of molecular biologists to identify new and potentially useful prognostic markers. Our collective ability to reap tangible gains in the clinical arena from our heavy investments in molecular biology and biotechnology depends to a large extent on open channels of communication between clinical and basic scientists. As our ever-increasing insights into oncogenic processes spawn new diagnostic and prognostic markers, our priorities should remain focused on those areas which are inadequately addressed by current methods, and we should avoid the technological trap of devising redundant solutions which increase the expense, but not the efficiency of patient care.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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