Genes Could Predict

The NIH-funded study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, identified mutations that are harbored early and could be potential early-onset biomarkers for detection.

Many older people silently harbor a blood "pre-cancer" — a gene mutation acquired during their lifetime that could start them on the path to leukemia, lymphoma or other blood disease, scientists have discovered. It opens a new frontier on early detection and possibly someday preventing these cancers, which become more common with age.

The discovery was made by two international research teams working independently, decoding the DNA of about 30,000 people.

The gene mutations were rare in people under 40, but found in about 10 percent of those over 65 and in nearly 20 percent of folks over 90.

Having one of the mutations does not destine someone to develop a blood cancer, but it raises the risk of that more than tenfold. It also increases the chance of a heart attack or stroke, and of dying from any cause over the next four to eight years.

"We are hopeful that someday we would be able to use this as a screening test and identify individuals who are at risk," said one study leader, Dr. Benjamin Ebert of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

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