A new study has found that more than half of all cancerous tumours are associated with defects in a single gene.
The researchers hope that the new findings can lead to new strategies for targeting cancer through genetic manipulation.
A team of cancer scientists - from the University of Cincinnati, Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute, and Catalan Oncology Institute - said they have determined how the so-called p53 gene acts as a tumour-suppressing gene to protect healthy cells and prevent the development of abnormal cancerous cells.
Researchers believe that the gene produces proteins that can either repair damaged cells or cause tumour cells to die.
But when the gene is not working properly, due to a defect or mutation, the proteins that repair cells or target tumours are not produced, and the cancer grows.
The new study, led by George Thomas, identified the molecular processes that regulate the stability of p53 to keep the gene functioning properly to keep cancer cells in check.
The results suggest genetics play a significant role in cancer development and point the way to potential new treatments based on that the emerging scientific understanding of how tumours grow and spread.
Thomas said understanding how p53 is regulated and function is critical as "more than 50 percent of tumours have mutations in p53."
The findings are published online in the journal Cell Reports.