Scientists find new genetic sites that increase Hodgkin's lymphoma risk
Researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and colleagues have identified three regions of DNA that appear to increase people's risk of developing Hodgkin's lymphoma - a form of blood cancer that originates in white blood cells.
Although some cases of the disease are thought to be linked to infection with a virus called Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) - which causes glandular fever - people who have never been exposed to the virus can still develop Hodgkin's lymphoma and scientists have long thought that genetic risk factors may also play a role.
The latest study, which is published in Nature Genetics, is the first to identify specific genetic sites that increase a person's risk of developing the disease.
The increased risk conferred by these genetic variants is small. But as more of these 'low risk' sites are found it may be possible to create tests for a combination of them that together significantly increase risk.
The researchers, led by Professor Richard Houlston from The ICR, scanned the entire genome of 589 people with Hodgkin's lymphoma and a further 5,199 people without the disease.
This revealed three genetic variants (on chromosomes 2, 8 and 10) that were much more common in people with Hodgkin's lymphoma, all of which are located in or near genes that have previously been linked to the immune system.
They then confirmed these results by looking at the DNA of a further 2,057 Hodgkin's lymphoma patients and 3,416 disease-free controls.
A separate region of DNA on chromosome 6 - the MHC region, which contains genes involved in the immune system - was also found to be associated with an increased risk of the disease.
Professor Houlston, said: "Many cases of Hodgkin's lymphoma are linked to Epstein-Barr virus, but we have found the first evidence of genes that could be involved in promoting this cancer's development in people not exposed to the virus."
Dr David Grant, scientific director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, which co-funded the study, said that while the link between EBV and Hodgkin's lymphoma is still not clear, the latest finding "will certainly throw new light on the genetic basis of this blood cancer".
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, which also provided funding, said: "Hodgkin's lymphoma is one of the most curable forms of cancer, with around four out of five people now being successfully treated.
"We know that the EBV virus has a role to play in the development of Hodgkin's lymphoma, but more than half of people with the disease show no signs of infection. This study takes us one step closer to fully understanding why the disease develops."