Many older people silently harbor gene mutation that could start path to blood cancer
Many older people silently harbor a blood “pre-cancer” — a gene mutation acquired during their lifetime that could start them on the path to leukemia, lymphoma or other blood disease, scientists have discovered. It opens a frontier on early detection and possibly preventing these cancers, which become more common with age.
The discovery was made by two international research teams working independently, decoding the DNA of about 30,000 people.
The gene mutations were rare in people under 40 but found in about 10 percent of those over 65 and in nearly 20 percent of folks over 90.
Having one of the mutations does not destine someone to develop a blood cancer, but it raises the risk of that more than tenfold. It also increases the chance of a heart attack or stroke, and of dying from any cause over the next four to eight years.
“We are hopeful that someday we would be able to use this as a screening test and identify individuals who are at risk,” said one study leader, Dr. Benjamin Ebert of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
However, “nobody should go out tomorrow and look for these mutations” because there’s no treatment for having one or way to prevent cancer from developing, he said.
The studies are to be presented next month at an American Society of Hematology conference but were published ahead of time, online Wednesday by The New England Journal of Medicine, because of their importance. They were led by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard-affiliated groups, and mostly funded by the National Institutes of Health.