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Hum Genomics. 2006 Jun;2(6):415-21.

Genetic association studies in cancer: good, bad or no longer ugly?

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Clinical Genetics Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


For some time, investigators have appreciated that genetic association studies in cancer are complex because of the multi-stage process of cancer and the daunting challenge of analysing genetic variants in population and family studies. Because of recent technological advances and annotation of common genetic variation in the human genome, it is now possible for investigators to study genetic variation and cancer risk in many different settings. While these studies hold great promise for unravelling multiple genetic risk factors that contribute to the set of complex diseases called cancer, it is also imperative that study design and methods of interpretation be carefully considered. Replication of results in sufficiently large, well-powered studies is critical if genetic variation is to realise the promise of personalised medicine--namely, using genetic data to individualise medical decisions. In this regard, the plausibility of validated genetic variants can only be realised by the study of gene-gene and gene-environment interactions. The genetic association study in cancer has come a long way from the days of restriction fragment length polymorphisms, and now promises to scan an entire genome 'agnostically' in search of genetic markers for a disease or outcome. Moreover, the application and interpretation of these studies should be conducted cautiously.

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