Researchers at Harvard and Northwestern University have discovered tiny changes that happen in our bodies more than a decade before cancer is currently diagnosable.
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They found that the caps on the ends of chromosomes would show wear and tear approximating a person 15 years older in those people who went on to develop cancer. The caps are called telomeres and they prevent damage to DNA, each time a cell divides the telomeres shorten. In a presumptive cancer patient, the telomeres exhibit accelerated aging and cancer hijacks the process. When the caps stopped shrinking, cancer would develop about four years later. The scientists claim a new test can use the observations to predict with 100 percent accuracy if a person will develop cancer up to 13 years in the future. The patients in the study who tested positive went on to be diagnosed with different types of cancer, including prostate, skin, lung and leukemia. Scientists hope to eventually regrow or lengthen the telomeres or find a treatment to cause the cancer cells to self-destruct without harming healthy cells.