Scientists have discovered three "pre-cancer" gene mutations that can appear in people's blood.
The gene mutations could signify that a person may develop leukemia, lymphoma or another blood condition, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week.
The study was conducted by the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research and the Brigham and Women's Hospital, both in Boston.
The study, which included the DNA of 30,000 people, found that the gene mutations appeared in 10 percent of people over the age of 65 and in almost 20 percent of people older than 90. However, the mutations were rarely found in people under 40.
According to the Associated Press, the study found that the presence the gene mutations doesn't guarantee that someone is going to develop cancer, but does increase their chances.
“What we’ve identified is the very first step on the way to cancer,” Dr. Benjamin Ebert, one of the study leaders, told the Boston Globe. “It is still very difficult to develop curative therapies for any kind of cancer. Overall, we have made huge strides in preventing cancer through colonoscopies and mammograms and pap smears.”
"We are hopeful that someday we would be able to use this as a screening test and identify individuals who are at risk," Dr. Ebert told the Associated Press. "Nobody should go out tomorrow and look for these mutations."
Almost 140,000 Americans are diagnosed every year with some type of blood cancer. While some of these cancers can be inherited, it's also possible to develop gene mutations over a lifetime.
The National Cancer Institute is not advocating screening for blood cancer yet.
"The number of people being harmed by all the tests, the anxiety, would far outweigh the benefits," stated Dr. Wyndham Wilson of the National Cancer Institute. "With blood cancers, you can't take them out."
Sources: Associated Press, Boston Globe / Image Credit: National Institutes of Health