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  • Revolutionary ideas about breast cancer


    Q: You began studying breast cancer early in your career. How did you become interested in this line of inquiry and what made you think breast cancer could be inherited?

    DR. KING: When I started working in cancer biology in 1974, I got interested in breast cancer very quickly because I was working at UC San Francisco as a post-doc in a group that was pursuing the study of breast cancer from a variety of points of view. It was a very good place to be because there were people to talk to and bounce around ideas with. I started reading everything I could on theories about what underlies variation in breast cancer risk and breast cancer rates.

    I started thinking about breast cancer as an inherited genetic disease because at the time two different ideas were converging for me. Of course, cancer is always genetic. It always involves changes in the DNA. That wasn’t taught a lot in the mid-seventies because there was still a great deal of interest in the possibility that it was caused by viruses.

    My background was in evolutionary biology, mathematical population genetics, and molecular evolution. And it seemed to me then—and it still does—that one can attack problems of human disease in exactly the same way that one attacks evolutionary questions. That is, by questioning what the nature of the variation is, how it originally arose, what has selected for or against it, whether it has been active for a long time or neutral until recently, and how population structure alters frequencies of disease. These kinds of questions pertain directly to whether the sequences one is interested in are disease-related or not.

    So on one hand I was prepared to think about breast cancer in an entirely evolutionary way. But there was also an enormous variation in breast cancer risk depending on one’s family history, and this is the second part of the equation. The worldwide variation in breast cancer incidents is probably 10-fold. There is a dramatic difference in disease rates that is largely environmental.

    Published on September 5, 2012 · Filed under: Press Release; Tagged as: , , ,
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