The causes underlying the development of certain types of common cancers have not yet been elucidated. In order to better determine the origin and the sequence of events responsible for the onset of colon cancer, the teams led by Thanos Halazonetis and Stylianos Antonarakis, professors at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, have sequenced the DNA of biopsied tissue from colon polyps. The results show that these precancerous lesions have a specific profile called 'mutator', which is associated with an increased frequency of acquisition of certain mutations. The study, published December 1, 2012 in the journal Cancer Research, also designates mutations in three specific genes as being the likely initiators of the progression towards malignancy.
At each cell division, the entirety of our DNA, that is some 6.4 billion base pairs, must be replicated. The enzymes engaged in this task work at a prodigious rate of about 1000 base pairs per minute. This sometimes leads to errors, which are usually corrected by other enzymes. However, the repair mechanisms do not work when there is a defect in the DNA replication process, which is the case for cancer cells.