Scientists have identified a gene linked to more than half of all breast cancers, providing them with ‘vital information’ about how the disease is spread.
The NRG1 (neuregulin-1) gene is also thought to be linked to half of bowel and prostate cancers as well as a quarter of ovarian and bladder cancers.
The discovery, published in the journal Oncogene, was welcomed by cancer charities, who described the breakthrough as a “major step forward” in working out how cancer develops.
The gene is found on chromosome 8, one of the packages of DNA that house genes within a cell.
Experts noticed that the section of chromosome 8 which carries the NRG1 gene was absent from cancerous cells.
Dr Paul Edwards, of the department of pathology at the University of Cambridge, who discovered the gene with colleagues, said: “I believe NRG1 could be the most important tumour suppresser gene discovery in the last 20 years as it gives us vital information about a new mechanism that causes breast cancer.
“If we have found the gene that is lost on chromosome 8 and we know that some other cancers also lose that bit of chromosome 8, then it is logical that it is the same gene.”