Research by Cambridge scientists could lead to routine tests for patients genetic risk of cancer within five years.
The study compared the DNA of more than 100,000 cancer patients with a similarly sized sample from the general population.
They used microchip technology capable of identifying more than 200,000 genetic variants, some of which were suspected of being linked to cancer.
More than 1,000 scientists from 130 institutions in Europe and the US took part in the Collaborative Oncological Gene-environment Study (Cogs).
We're on the verge of being able to use our knowledge of these genetic variations to develop tests that could complement breast cancer screening and take us a step closer to having an effective prostate cancer screening programme
– Professor Doug Easton - Cancer Research UK
Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, which co-funded the research, said:
This groundbreaking international work highlights how complex cancer is.
Hundreds, if not thousands of genes are likely to play a role in how cancers start.
But by understanding why some people seem to be at greater risk of developing cancer we can look towards an era where we can identify them and take steps to reduce their chances of getting cancer or pick up the disease at its earliest stages."
These figures provide a glimpse into the future. On the plus side, our life expectancy is increasing but this also means more of us are likely to be diagnosed with cancer. It's only through research that we will be able to beat cancer. We need to do more work to understand what drives cancer and how we can prevent it, as well as developing new treatments to reduce the number of people who will die from it.
Understanding the biology of cancer is rather like completing a complex jigsaw puzzle. Many pieces have already fallen into place but we need more research before we can complete the picture. And thanks to the generosity of the public, our world-class scientists are playing a leading role in beating this devastating disease.
– Cancer Research UK's chief executive Dr Harpal Kumar
Around 416,000 people in the UK are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2027, compared with 324,000 in 2010.
Between the same two years the number of diagnosed cases of bowel cancer is forecast to rise from 41,800 to more than 54,400, of prostate cancer from 41,000 to 57,000 and of malignant melanoma from 12,800 to 20,400.