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Future Oncol. 2012 Apr;8(4):441-50. doi: 10.2217/fon.12.34.

Germline copy number variations and cancer predisposition.

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CIPE, AC Camargo Hospital, São Paulo, Brazil.


We present an overview of the role of germline copy number variations (CNVs) in cancer predisposition. CNVs represent a significant source of genetic diversity, although the mechanisms by which they influence cancer susceptibility still remain largely unknown. Approximately 100 highly penetrant germline mutant genes are now known to cause cancer predisposition inherited in a Mendelian fashion; in this review, we show that nearly half of these genes have also been observed as rare CNVs associated with cancer. However, these highly penetrant alleles seem to account for less than 5% of all familial cancers. We surmise that most of the genetic risk of cancer in the general population must largely involve genes of low or moderate penetrance. In the last 5 years, studies have demonstrated that although common low penetrant CNVs are modest contributors to cancer individually, their combined impact on cancer predisposition must be taken into account in estimating cancer risk.

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