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National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference 2011

The NCRI Cancer Conference is the UK’s major forum for showcasing the best British and international cancer research.

The seventh annual NCRI Cancer Conference took place on 6-9 November 2011 at the BT Convention Centre in Liverpool

The conference brought together world leading experts from all cancer research disciplines, including many of the ICR’s top scientists. 

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Wednesday 9 November

Parallel Sessions: Genetic predisposition to cancers – future implications for selective screening, surveillance and management 

Professor Ros Eeles from the ICR hosted a session discussing how the increasing number of cancer genes being discovered would change patient screening and management in future.Professor Ros Eeles, NCRI Cancer Conference 2011

Professor Eeles said that considerable advances had been made in the past 10 years in finding genes that increase cancer risk. Many of these findings had been made through large international collaborations comparing thousands of cancer cases with healthy controls using a technique called genome wide association studies (GWAS). GWAS are suited at finding genetic variants that are common in the population and each slightly increase cancer risk. To date, around 200 changes in the genome have been found that are linked to an increased risk of one of the common cancers. Although the increased risk from each genetic change is small, individuals who have a many of these variants can be at significantly higher risk.

Professor Eeles’ collaborator, Professor Doug Easton from the University of Cambridge, presented the latest data from one such effort called the COGS Initiative, made up of seven consortia including a prostate cancer research group Professor Eeles leads called PRACTICAL.  Professor Easton said around 23 genetic variants had been found for breast cancer so far while for prostate cancer the number was approaching 50, and these figures were “increasing rapidly”.

For the unlucky one per cent of the population with the highest number of these variants found for each cancer type, the lifetime risks were significant as the effects of each gene multiplied. For breast cancer, the risk of the disease could be as much as 2.5-fold higher than the population average; while for prostate cancer they were four to five times more likely to get the disease than the average person.

The estimate of lifetime risk could be even more accurate if this genetic information was combined with details of other risk factors, such as family history of relevant cancer cases, or breast density for breast cancer. This information could be used to target screening or prevention strategies to people at highest risk.

“We still need to find other genetic and other risk factors to make a test that would be really useful, but what we already know nevertheless has predictive value,” he said.

View images from the NCRI cancer conference

You can also read about the conference on the Cancer Research UK: NCRI Blog

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