New research has shed more light on the biological development of cancer, showing that a single chromosome crisis (known as chromothripsis) can trigger the disease.
The findings, by Stephens and colleagues, questioned the textbook definition of cancer developing through a series of clinical and pathological stages. They have discovered that in some cancers, a single cellular catastrophe causes the genome to be shattered into hundreds of fragments, resulting in mutations on a huge scale and potential oncogenic effects.
The phenomenon is a one-off cellular crisis in which tens or hundreds of genomic rearrangements involving 1 or more chromosomes occur. The researchers found that this event occurs in at least 2-3% of all cancers and is particularly common in bone cancers, where it occurs in approximately 25%, and 1 or more cancer-causing lesions appear as a result of chromothripsis.
This discovery has important implications in the understanding of the development of cancer.
Stephens PJ, Grennman CD, Fu B et al. Massive genomic rearrangement acquired in a single catastrophic event during cancer development. Cell 2011; 144: 27-40