In the Driver's Seat of a Wild Cancer Cell

Like a GPS, DNA "directs" cancer cells. These genetic maps help doctors personalize treatment for tumors.

Our DNA contains information that helps doctors target genetic mutations in a cancer tumor with personalized treatment. Here's how scientists at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center's pathology lab sequence DNA.

Cancer cells misbehave by dividing and traveling to places they aren't supposed to go. A cell's DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) tells it what to do: a standard DNA sequence is well ordered and gives proper instructions. But when DNA is damaged, it can send out wrong information.

Physicians and scientists at Norris Cotton Cancer Center "map" DNA sequences by testing for gene changes—a missing or extra section or other tiny alterations. Since specific alterations in certain genes can determine how well a person responds to treatment, genetic tests can help people get the right amount of a medicine based on their particular genetic makeup.

What causes genetic mutations or damage?

Genes can be damaged or "mutated" in multiple ways. Some genetic mutations are passed down from one generation to another. Others occur from environmental damage, such as exposure to the sun or cigarette smoke.

NCCC conducts extensive research on the role of genetic mutations in cancer, and the most effective treatments, in research programs like Cancer Mechanisms and Molecular Therapeutics. We also operate scientific core facilities where researchers from all over New England send their samples for analysis.

As an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Norris Cotton is at the forefront of genomics in cancer diagnosis and treatment, contributing new knowledge to a worldwide scientific community working to cure cancers. 

To learn more about genetic testing, visit:

November 11, 2013