Monthly Archives: December 2011

Cancer Research: It’s About Time

By William C. Phelps, PhD


The 1960s seems like yesterday to me.  The music, the cultural passion, and a Presidential assassination helped to sear time and place in my now gray-headed memory. During this time, two young scientists in Philadelphia, Dr. Peter Nowell from the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. David Hungerford from Fox Chase Cancer Center, spent their days peering through microscopes at white blood cells. They noticed that when they stained cells from patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (or chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML), they would very often see an odd, minute chromosome in addition to the normal set.

We know today in looking back that this was a landmark observation. Dr. Nowell and Dr. Hungerford named their discovery the “Philadelphia Chromosome” in keeping with the tradition of the day, and it soon became an important way to diagnose CML.

In the 1970s as we suffered through the disco era, Dr. Janet Rowley at the University of Chicago used newly developed techniques that highlighted different regions of chromosomes to look more carefully at the Philadelphia Chromosome. She determined that they looked odd because two large pieces of two different chromosomes had changed places. But the significance of that wasn’t immediately apparent.… Continue reading →

Breast Cancer Genetics: Is Testing an Option?

By Mia M. Gaudet, PhD

Certain types of cancer often seem to run in families. Sometimes, it’s because families share certain risk factors (like smoking) that can cause cancer. Other times, though, there is an inherited link – a slight difference in the genetic code that is passed down from generation to generation.


Only about 5% – 10% of all cancers are inherited. It’s an important area of research because identifying genetic causes of cancer could help us understand who might need to be screened for a certain type of cancer more often, or take other steps to protect themselves from this disease. This is the first blog in a series where we’ll explore what researchers have learned about some of the cancers that have a strong genetic link, and who might be candidates for genetic counseling and testing. Today we’ll focus on breast cancer. [more]


Who has increased risk?


Women with 1 or more first-degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter) previously diagnosed with breast cancer have at least double the risk of breast cancer than the general population.  A woman with a family history of breast cancer has a much higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer if she has 2 or more first-degree relatives who had it, or the first-degree relative had her cancer before age 50, or in both breasts.  Having a family history of other cancers, such as ovarian cancer, might also lead to an increased risk of breast cancer.… Continue reading →