Context: Continuing advances in genotyping technologies and the inclusion of DNA collection in observational studies have resulted in an increasing number of genetic association studies.
Objective: To evaluate the overall progress and contribution of candidate gene association studies to current understanding of the genetic susceptibility to cancer.
Data sources: We systematically examined the results of meta-analyses and pooled analyses for genetic polymorphisms and cancer risk published through March 2008.
Study selection: We identified 161 meta-analyses and pooled analyses, encompassing 18 cancer sites and 99 genes. Analyses had to meet the following criteria: include at least 500 cases, have cancer risk as outcome, not be focused on HLA antigen genetic markers, and be published in English.
Data extraction: Information on cancer site, gene name, variant, point estimate and 95% confidence interval (CI), allelic frequency, number of studies and cases, tests of study heterogeneity, and publication bias were extracted by 1 investigator and reviewed by other investigators.
Results: These 161 analyses evaluated 344 gene-variant cancer associations and included on average 7.3 studies and 3551 cases (range, 508-19 729 cases) per investigated association. The summary odds ratio (OR) for 98 (28%) statistically significant associations (P value <.05) were further evaluated by estimating the false-positive report probability (FPRP) at a given prior probability and statistical power. At a prior probability level of 0.001 and statistical power to detect an OR of 1.5, 13 gene-variant cancer associations remained noteworthy (FPRP <0.2). Assuming a very low prior probability of 0.000001, similar to a probability assumed for a randomly selected single-nucleotide polymorphism in a genome-wide association study, and statistical power to detect an OR of 1.5, 4 associations were considered noteworthy as denoted by an FPRP value <0.2: GSTM1 null and bladder cancer (OR, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.3-1.6; P = 1.9 x 10(-14)), NAT2 slow acetylator and bladder cancer (OR, 1.46; 95% CI, 1.26-1.68; P = 2.5 x 10(-7)), MTHFR C677T and gastric cancer (OR, 1.52; 95% CI, 1.31-1.77; P = 4.9 x 10(-8)), and GSTM1 null and acute leukemia (OR, 1.20; 95% CI, 1.14-1.25; P = 8.6 x 10(-15)). When the OR used to determine statistical power was lowered to 1.2, 2 of the 4 noteworthy associations remained so: GSTM1 null with bladder cancer and acute leukemia.
Conclusion: In this review of candidate gene association studies, nearly one-third of gene-variant cancer associations were statistically significant, with variants in genes encoding for metabolizing enzymes among the most consistent and highly significant associations.