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Large-scale genetic studies are reliably identifying many risk factors for disease in the general population. Several of these genetic risk factors encode potential drug targets, and genetics has already helped to introduce targeted agents for some diseases, an example being lipid-lowering drugs to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Multiple drugs have been developed to treat cancers based on somatic mutations and genomics, but in stark contrast, there seems to be a reluctance to use germline genetic data to develop drugs to prevent malignancy, despite the large numbers of people who could benefit, the potential for lowering cancer rates, and the widespread current use of non-pharmaceutical measures to reduce cancer risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol, and infectious diseases. We argue that concerted efforts for cancer prevention based on genetics, including genes influenced by common polymorphisms that modulate cancer risk, are urgently needed. There are enormous, yet underutilized, opportunities to develop novel targeted agents for chemoprevention of cancer based on human germline genetics. Such efforts are likely to require the support of a dedicated funding program by national and international agencies. See related commentary by Winham and Sherman, p. 13.

Original publication




Journal article


Cancer Prev Res (Phila)

Publication Date





7 - 12


Humans, Neoplasms, Chemoprevention, Risk Factors, Drug Delivery Systems, Human Genetics