Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The accumulation of mutations is a feature of all normal cells. The probability of any individual gene in any cell acquiring a mutation is, however, low. Cancer is therefore a rare disease in comparison with the number of susceptible cells. Mutations in normal tissue are stochastic, vary widely among cells and are therefore difficult to detect using standard methods because each change is so rare. If, however, a tissue such as the breast undergoes considerable clonal expansion, particularly if relatively late in life, normal tissue may have accumulated many thousands of detectable mutations. Since breast cancers are clonal and have almost certainly undergone many more cell divisions than normal cells, each tumour may have many millions of mutations, most of which are entirely innocent and some of which have accumulated in the cell of origin prior to tumorigenesis. Despite some claims to the contrary, even at normal mutation rates, clonal expansion within a tumour is quite sufficient to account for the mutations of five or six genes that are generally supposed necessary for carcinogenesis to occur. Hypermutability does, however, contribute to the pathogenesis of many cancers and, although evidence is indirect in breast cancer, may take forms such as karyotypic instability via centrosome amplification.

Original publication




Journal article


Breast Cancer Res

Publication Date





299 - 303


Breast, Breast Neoplasms, Cell Transformation, Neoplastic, Female, Humans, Mutation