Researchers suggest that chromosomal structure is frequently a contributing factor to cancer.

Prof. Ron Shamir of the Blavatnik School of Computer Science at Tel Aviv University, said that while a healthy genome is characterized by 23 pairs of chromosomes, and even a small change in this structure, such as an extra copy of a single chromosome, can lead to severe physical impairment, it is no surprise that cancer can be linked with chromosome abnormality patterns.

Shamir and colleagues combined computer science and statistics techniques to discover that many chromosomal pairs are lost or gained together across various cancer types.

In addition, the researchers found a new commonality of chromosomal aberrations among embryonic cancer types, such as kidney, skeleton, and liver cancers.

The findings, published in Genome Biology, could reveal more about the nature of cancer, the authors said.

Shamir explained that as cancer develops, the genome becomes increasingly mutated and identifying the pattern of mutation can help researchers to understand the nature and the progression of many different kinds of cancer.

The authors noted that the structure of chromosomes becomes rearranged as cancer progresses, individual chromosomes are duplicated or lost, and the genome becomes abnormal.

Explaining a specific type of leukemia caused by a small piece of chromosome 9 being moved to chromosome 22, Shamir said that some forms of cancer can be diagnosed by identifying individual chromosomal aberrations.

In studying a collection of more than fifty thousand cancer karyotypes, the researchers confirmed that different chromosomal aberrations that appeared in specific cancer types and for the first time, they identified a broader effect of pairs of chromosomes being lost or gained together across different cancer types.

“In cancer, there are many cases of extra or missing chromosomes. Yet cancer cells thrive more effectively than other cells," said Shamir.

The researchers hope that future research will help scientist understand “why something that is so detrimental to our healthy development is so beneficial to this disease.”