From Nature Outlook, 25 March 2020:
When cancer was first described by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, he identified just two forms: the non-ulcer-forming carcinos and the ulcer-forming carcinoma. In the late nineteenth century, physicians found, with the help of the microscope, that cancer had multiple cellular forms.
Now, technology is once again transforming our understanding of cancer’s origins and complexity. Instead of broad categorizations based on the location of tumours, genome sequencing is providing detailed characterizations of the combination of genetic mutations that trigger or aid cancer development in an individual.
“What you now see is that every cancer is a rare cancer,” says Emile Voest, an oncologist and medical director of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Ten years ago, he says, lung cancer was classified as either small cell or non-small cell. It’s now described by the presence or absence of nearly 30 genetic mutations.
As well as advancing physicians’ understanding of what causes each person’s cancer, genomics is providing insights into how an individual’s cancer might progress, and its likely response to treatment. Read more.