The latest research suggests people may be having cancer as a result of a genetic mutation that allows them to become more susceptible to the cancer-causing virus.
The research was published in the medical journal Nature Communications.
The finding is the first to show that certain mutations are linked to an increased risk of developing the disease, and could mean that genetic testing is being used more widely.
Dr Helen Wills of the University of Queensland said the findings were important in understanding the genetic link between cancer and lifestyle choices.
“It’s really the first step in understanding how a person develops cancer and how their risk factors might influence how they might survive,” Dr Wills said.
“And this research shows that these genetic changes are associated with the development of cancer, which is something we really need to understand.”
Dr Will said the research was the first study to show a link between a genetic change and cancer, and the findings could help inform the development and use of new genetic testing.
She said the study was particularly important because of the importance of understanding the underlying genetics of a person’s cancer.
“The mutation that we found was very rare in humans, and so it’s not something that is going to be found in every person, so it will give us some insight into why we have such a high cancer risk, and how it might be different for people,” Dr Willows said.
The study involved scientists from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, the University in Queensland, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and University of Adelaide.
Dr Wines said the researchers wanted to understand how the mutation was associated with cancer risk in more detail.
“What does the mutation do?
How does it affect the disease?
How is it associated with risk for other cancers?”
Dr Wllows said the mutation had not been studied in other species.
“But what we do know is that in mice, this mutation has been associated with a high rate of tumours in males,” Dr Hirst said.
She noted that the researchers did not know how many people had the mutation.
“This is a very rare mutation in humans so we’re looking at how many of those people are actually carriers, and we’re trying to see whether there are any other mutations associated with that mutation,” Dr Yves Hirst of the Queensland Cancer Institute said.
Dr Hines said it was possible the mutation could be the cause of the risk for developing cancer in people who were not currently carriers.
“So, the mutation may be causing this to occur in people, and then we could start looking at that, because it could be that it’s one of the things that may be driving the development,” Dr Aimee Hirst, the Queensland Professor of Medical Genetics and Epidemiology at the University at Adelaide, said.
Cancer researchers have been researching the possibility that certain genetic mutations were associated with some cancers.
In one study published in 2011, a genetic test was found to be more effective in detecting cancer in certain cancers than conventional screening, despite showing only very low results.
“Some people have been shown to have a very low level of risk of cancer and others have been found to have higher risk,” Dr Lavinia Cunneen, a cancer researcher at the Queensland University of Technology, said at the time.
“In other cases, genetic testing has been shown more effective than traditional screening in diagnosing cancer.”
She said this was because the testing used to detect cancer was based on mutations rather than the full DNA sequence.
“If you look at this as a disease, then the genetic information that we have for you, it’s more likely that there’s a disease that you’re having,” Dr Cunnes said.
One of the key findings from the study involved a genetic variation called L7N9 that affects how the immune system responds to certain proteins in cells.
Dr Cunsneen said this variation was linked to a higher risk of certain cancers.
“These particular mutations are associated, not only with cancer but also with other cancers that we know of,” Dr Marni Cunns, a professor at the Commonwealth Institute of Health Research, said in a statement.
“We know that there are different immune system proteins that respond to specific proteins, and this particular mutation is associated with increased risk.”
Dr Cunnns said the finding suggested that the mutation should be considered when considering whether to use genetic testing in people with particular genetic risk factors.
“I think we should be cautious and consider this as part of our screening when it comes to risk, but we also have to consider what the underlying genetic causes of this particular risk may be,” she said.
However, Dr Cunningham said that the results did not prove that the mutations were the cause.
“For me, I’m very sceptical about this finding,” she told AAP.
As far as I’m concerned, we don