Mutagen sensitivity as a marker of cancer risk

Cancer Detect Prev. 1994;18(4):299-303.


There are measurable differences, genetically determined, in susceptibility to carcinogenic activity. Variation in metabolism of xenobiotic chemicals is one determinant of susceptibility and is attributed to polymorphisms in a number of enzymes. There may also be a wide spectrum of DNA-repair capability within the population. A peripheral lymphocyte assay has been developed in which in vitro bleomycin-induced chromosome breaks provides an indirect measurement of such repair. Mutagen sensitivity as defined by this assay has been shown to be an independent risk factor for tobacco-related malignancies, especially those of the upper aerodigestive tract. Preliminary data also suggest familial aggregation of cancer in mutagen-sensitive patients. Risk assessment is now recognized as a multidisciplinary process, extending beyond the scope of traditional epidemiologic methodology to include biological evaluation of interindividual differences in carcinogenic susceptibility. These susceptibility markers will enable us to identify high-risk population subgroups that can be targeted for intensive primary and secondary preventive strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology
  • Bleomycin / toxicity
  • Case-Control Studies
  • DNA Repair*
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Mutagens / toxicity*
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Smoking / adverse effects


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Mutagens
  • Bleomycin
  • Ethanol