Nightly News   |  March 27, 2013

Researchers discover genes linked to deadly cancers

Gene variations know to affect risk for some of the deadliest cancers may soon lead to new blood tests that determine how much a person is at risk. NBC’s Robert Bazell reports

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>>> there doesn't seem to ever be enough good news on the cancer front. we have progress to report tonight. a new government report projecting the ranks of cancer survivors will grow by nearly a third over the next ten years to 18 million people. this means people are living longer, of course, after a cancer diagnosis. and an early warning about the risk of getting cancer will help which brings us to the bigger cancer news tonight. it has to do with a diagnosis and treatment of some of the most common and deadly forms of the disease. our report from our chief science correspondent robert bazell .

>> reporter: it is a trove of new genetic information about cancer that could soon help millions of patients. julie oberding was diagnosed with a precancerous breast legion. the question for her and her doctor, does she need extensive treatment now or can she wait?

>> those of us who take care of high risk patients are in a dilemma as to what's an aggressive tumor.

>> reporter: ground-breaking studies of more than 200,000 people in some 200 labs around the world, almost double the number of gene variations known to affect risk for the deadliest cancer -- breast, ovarian and prostate. this information will lead to blood tests to determine how much a person is at risk and how serious the cancer might be.

>> i'm excited because i now have more information that can guide my treatment.

>> reporter: because there were so many subjects in the research study, some of these tests could be available in your doctor's office in a year or two. other wills come further down the road. the explosion of genetic information is possible because robotic machines can identify slight differences in the dna to signal cancer risk. finding these variations used to take months or years. now it takes days.

>> we started this project four years ago. already we are at an end point where we can make tremendous benefits for the patient. we really thought we would be studying this for 10, maybe 15 years before we'd see an outcome.

>> reporter: the tests will identify more families with a high risk for cancer allowing julie and her loved ones to make informed decisions.

>> i am one of five girls in our family. this is a big deal for our family.

>> reporter: it is a giant step toward the goal of personalized medicine . giving individuals and families exactly the information and the treatment they need. robert bazell , nbc news, rochester, minnesota.