African Americans smoke less than European Americans. So why is it that this population experiences higher rates of lung cancer?

Using DNA methylation data from The Cancer Genome Atlas, I compared healthy noncancerous cells from African Americans with healthy noncancerous cells from European Americans. The goal was to see if there was a feature in the healthy African American cells that would make them more vulnerable to lung cancer.

While there were differences between the cells, they weren’t significant enough to drive the disparity in cancer rates.

Understanding these results led me to set up another analysis independent of race. Again, I looked at DNA methylation, chemical tags that can silence or turn off a gene. I found that two genes in people with cancer have fewer chemical tags. Without those tags, these genes express themselves in a louder voice than ones with more chemical tags.

This is important because there are drugs that can target a specific gene. I also found that the affected genes affected different cellular pathways of the study cohort.

The same cancer doesn’t always present itself the same way in different patients.

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