British scientists have decoded the mystery of why 'instant cancers' seemingly appear out of nowhere.
The finding from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK contradicts the long-held theory that thousands of mutations over a lifetime cause cancer. It also helps explain why some people are diagnosed with cancer only months after x-rays or other tests fail to detect traces of the disease.
The discovery was based on the genetic flaws in 750 tumours. In most cases, the damage to chromosomes upheld the conventional picture of cancer creeping up over the years, according to the Daily Mail. But at least one tumour in 40 didn't fit the pattern. Instead, the damage appeared to have been done almost overnight.
Researcher Peter Campbell said: "The results astounded us. It seems that in a single cell, in a single event, one or more of the chromosomes explode - literally into hundreds of fragments." If the cell then botches the repair, stitching the fragments back together in a 'higgledy piggledy' fashion, the damage to its genome, or cache of DNA, leaves it ripe for the rapid development of cancer.
The phenomenon is particularly common in bone cancers, where the distinct pattern of damage is seen in up to one in four cases. But it is thought to be to blame for more than one in 40 of all cases of the disease.