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Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2010 May;7(5):251-65. doi: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2010.41. Epub 2010 Mar 30.

The molecular pathology of cancer.

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  • 1SAIC-Frederick, National Cancer Institute at Frederick, Frederick, MD 21702, USA.


Rapid technical advances in DNA sequencing and genome-wide association studies are driving the discovery of the germline and somatic mutations that are present in different cancers. Mutations in genes involved in cellular signaling are common, and often shared by tumors that arise in distinct anatomical locations. Here we review the most important molecular changes in different cancers from the perspective of what should be analyzed on a routine basis in the clinic. The paradigms are EGFR mutations in adenocarcinoma of the lung that can be treated with gefitinib, KRAS mutations in colon cancer with respect to treatment with EGFR antibodies, and the use of gene-expression analysis for ER-positive, node-negative breast cancer patients with respect to chemotherapy options. Several other examples in both solid and hematological cancers are also provided. We focus on how disease subtypes can influence therapy and discuss the implications of the impending molecular diagnostic revolution from the point of view of the patients, clinicians, and the diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies. This paradigm shift is occurring first in cancer patient management and is likely to promote the application of these technologies to other diseases.

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