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Common mutations of the PTEN gene are linked to earliest stages of endometrial cancer
By Bijal P. Trivedi

A new study shows that 43 percent of pre-menopausal women carry mutations in the PTEN tumor suppressor gene that may predispose them to uterine cancer. The mutations occur in seemingly normal endometrial tissue, and researchers suggest that along with other genetic markers the PTEN gene may be useful for determining a woman's risk of developing the disease.

In more than 50 percent of uterine cancers the PTEN tumor suppressor gene is inactive due to mutations within the gene or because the gene has been completely deleted.

Researchers led by George Mutter, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, found that because the lining of the uterus is not completely shed during menses, endometrial cells carrying PTEN mutations are able to persist in the uterus. The endometrial tissue is made up of rapidly dividing cells, which facilitates the proliferation of cells carrying genetic mutations.

When using conventional bulk tissue-handling methods, these abnormal cells are easily overlooked. But Mutter's team used techniques that enabled them to find PTEN mutations in individual cells.

"PTEN immunohistochemistry is able to bring out what is perhaps the earliest stage of nonfamilial carcinogenesis yet identified in any human tissue, before histological change is manifest and in patients without concurrent carcinoma," write Mutter and colleagues in the current issue of Cancer Research.

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Mutter, G.L. et al. Molecular identification of latent precancers in histologically normal endometrium. Cancer Res 61, 4311-4314 (June 1, 2001).

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