What can modifications to your DNA reveal about you? Elizabeth Tracey reports


Your DNA is constantly being modified throughout your lifetime, and one way involves adding or taking away chemical groups called methyl groups. These modifications are known as epigenetics, and two new studies point to using them to find cancers of the breast and ovary in pap smears. William Nelson, director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, describes the studies.

Nelson: Is this a record, in the genome, of certain cells and certain tissues, of the life someone lived. Whether you were a smoker, whether you were overweight, these things that we know are associated with cancer risk. And in this case it’s a giant clue that has something to do with progesterone action. They built another classifier associated with ovarian cancer. The marks that they saw suggested that some of these marks are the same kind of marks you see in the fallopian tubes of women who are carriers of increased risk for ovarian cancer, BRCA1 andf BRCA2.  :32

Nelson predicts that this strategy will become a practical means of cancer screening. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.