Follicular lymphoma 'twice as common' in carriers of variant gene

In collaboration with the Press Association

US scientists have shown that a certain version of a gene called STG is linked to a two-fold increase in a person's risk of developing a form of blood cancer called follicular lymphoma.

The disease accounts for up to 30 per cent of all cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in which tumours develop in white blood cells called lymphocytes.

In follicular lymphoma, tumours arise in a particular type of white blood cell, called B-cells.


Writing in the journal Nature Genetics, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) reveal that a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) - in other words, a single change within the more than three billion base pairs that make up the human genome - can affect a person's susceptibility to the cancer.

They studied more than 3,000 DNA samples from people with follicular lymphoma and analysed the genetic sequence of an SNP called rs6457327 in each one.

They found that people in their sample who carried a version of this SNP where the DNA base guanosine (G) is present were less likely to have the disease than people with the 'normal' version.

Conversely, people who carried another version - the 'A' variant, where adenosine is present instead of guanosine - appeared to be twice as likely to have the disease as normal.

Lead researcher Dr Christine Skibola, associate adjunct professor of environmental health sciences at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, commented: "What's exciting about this study is that we found a target in the genome influencing the susceptibility to follicular lymphoma, which helps us discern between three major types of lymphomas.

"That had not been done before on a genome-wide scale. It is our hope that this research may someday be useful in helping develop prevention, early detection and treatment of this disease."

Dr Kevin Brown, associate investigator at TGen in Arizona who co-led the study, said that there is clearly a genetic component to follicular lymphoma.

"The hope is to one day be able to take these results, combine them with other tests, and turn them into an individualised assessment of disease risk,'' he explained."This is a starting point.''

Henry Scowcroft, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said such 'genome-wide association studies' were increasingly common.

"Studies like this are telling us more and more about the genetic aspect of cancer, including who is at increased risk of the disease. Hopefully this will lead to improvements in the way we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer in the not-too-distant future."


 Skibola, C. et al. (2009). Genetic variants at 6p21.33 are associated with susceptibility to follicular lymphoma Nature Genetics, 41 (8), 873-875 DOI: 10.1038/ng.419