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National brain tumour research funding needs to increase to £35 million a year

Are scientists on the verge of transforming cancer treatment?

The cancer-based studies of more than a thousand scientists have today been published in the journal Nature. They describe a situation where cancer, until today, has been like a 100,000-piece jigsaw with 99% of the pieces missing. However, this landmark study provides the most detailed and almost complete picture of all cancers. In turn this could allow future treatments to be tailored to each patient's unique tumour, or the development of ways of finding cancer earlier.

What was truly game-changing was that the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes Consortium analysed the whole genetic code of 2,658 cancers opposed to the 1% of the genome that comes from the sets of genetic instructions for building the body's proteins – and which had been the source of our understanding of the way cancer works.

The work, which took 22 scientific journal papers to describe, shows that cancer is massively complex, with thousands of different combinations of mutations able to cause cancer.

The project found people's cancers contain, on average, between four and five fundamental mutations that drive growth.

These are potential weak-spots that can be exploited with treatments that attack these "driver mutations".

Scientists also developed a way of "carbon dating" mutations. Unlocking these patterns and understanding the timelines of genetic mutations means it should now be possible to develop new diagnostic tests, that pick-up signs of cancer much earlier.

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