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Monday 28th May 2018

Clues to 'Cantonese cancer' found

1st June 2010

Researchers in Singapore and China have found three genetic variations responsible for nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC), also known as nose-and-throat cancer, which is common among Cantonese people.


The study could help scientists understand why 'Cantonese cancer' is so common among people of southern Chinese descent.

The Cantonese are not the only people in the world to have such high rates of the cancer, however, and some people in southeast Asia, Alaska, and northern Africa also suffer from unusually high rates of the disease.

The three genes which are implicated in high susceptibility to the disease are: TNFRSF19, MDSIEVI1 and CDKN2A/2B.

In previous studies, all the genes have been linked with leukaemia.

There are also lifestyle factors that can contribute to the cancer, such as smoking, and eating salty or pickled foods.

People who have high levels of exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) also seem to have a much greater risk of developing nose-and-throat cancer.

Prior to the study, many researchers believed that exposure to EBV, also known as herpesvirus 4, was one of the main factors that determined people's chance of developing NPC.

EBV is a member of the herpes family, and is one of the most common viruses in the world.

It has been implicated in several autoimmune conditions, including lupus. However, the vast majority of adults seem to be immune to EBV.

For the purposes of the study, the researchers examined data on about 10,000 people who had Cantonese ancestry.

About 5,000 of the study subjects had already been diagnosed with NPC. The other half of the study subjects were otherwise healthy.

Besides the three main genes the researchers identified, subjects who had NPC also had variations in their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes.

The researchers said that their finding could help people understand the molecular pathways responsible for the development of NPC.

Understanding which molecular pathways are affected by genetic factors would also allow the researchers to treat people who are particularly at risk, such as people in Guangdong and Hong Kong.

The nasopharynx is the highest part of the throat, and is the primary region where NPC causes tumours.

The tumours form in the epithelial lining of the nasopharynx, just behind the nose.

In regions such as Guangdong, where the cancer is common, people are about 25 times more likely to develop NPC.


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