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Gene found to be linked to increased risk of recurrence in bowel cancer

Bowel cancer patients with the gene are likely to have shorter survival

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 16 October 2015

Researchers have discovered a new gene linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer recurrence and shortened survival.

The discovery, revealed in a paper* in Gut, offers the potential to signal likely disease course in patients who carry the gene and paves the way for the development of personalised treatments to target it, the researchers suggest.

Despite advances in treatment bowel cancer remains the second most common cause of cancer death in Europe and the US after lung cancer. The return of cancer in another part of the body after curative surgery remains the primary cause of death.

Recent evidence suggests that small nucleolar RNA (snoRNA) is involved in cell regulation and the development of certain types of cancer. The researchers assessed the expression of four different snoRNAs in 274 tissue samples, taken from three separate sets of bowel cancer patients, and six different types of bowel cancer cells cultured in the laboratory, to find out if snoRNAs signal the likelihood of disease recurrence and associated survival.

The tissue samples from the bowel cancer patients included 250 taken from the tumour itself and 24 taken from normal healthy cells lining the gut. Analysis showed that levels of all four snoRNAs were significantly higher in cancerous than in normal cells, and clearly differentiated between them.

Furthermore, high expression of snoRNA42 was associated with poor overall, and disease-free, survival, and emerged as a risk factor for the return of cancer in another part of the body.

In a further smaller sample of bowel cancer patients, classified as being in the early stages of their disease (stage II), snoRNA42 identified those at high risk of recurrence and shorter survival.

Additional experimental tests showed that high levels of snoRNA42 in cancer cells grown in the laboratory boosted uncontrolled cell division, spread to other areas, invasion of healthy tissue, increased resistance to programmed cell death (anoiki) and tumour growth.

The researchers say that snoRNA42 seems to be a new type of cancer-promoting gene that has promising potential as a reliable biological indicator for bowel cancer patients in whom the disease is likely to return.

“Taken together, these results underscore the potential of snoRNA42 expression as a useful biomarker for selecting high risk patients that may receive more personalised treatments in future,” the researchers said.

“The investigation of snoRNAs as potential biomarkers and drivers of disease progression represents an unexplored area of cancer biology and has enormous potential clinical significance.”


* Okugawa Y, et al. Clinical significance of SNORA42 as an oncogene and a prognostic biomarker in colorectal cancer. Gut, October 2015. DOI:10.1136/gutjnl-2015-309359

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