The repair of DNA damage protects the genome of the cell from the insults of cancer causing agents. This was originally demonstrated in individuals with the rare genetic disease, xeroderma pigmentosum, the prototype of cancer genes, and subsequently in the relationship of mismatch repair to colon cancer. Recent studies suggest that individuals with less dramatic reductions in the capacity to repair DNA damage are observed at polymorphic frequency and these individuals have an increased susceptibility to several types of cancer. Screening of individuals for DNA sequence variation in the exons of 9 DNA repair genes has resulted in identification of 15 different polymorphic amino acid substitution variants. Although the studies to relate these variants to reduced DNA repair capacity and cancer status have not been completed, the available information is sufficient to suggest that DNA repair genes should be incorporated into molecular epidemiology and cancer susceptibility studies. The availability of molecular epidemiology data presents exciting opportunities for refinement of risk estimation models and identification of individuals at increased risk of disease, with resultant opportunities for effective surveillance and early intervention and treatment. The opportunities to acquire susceptibility data are associated with possible perils for establishment of regulations for permissible exposures to carcinogenic agents and also stigmatization of 'at risk' individuals that may result in decreased access to employment opportunities and health care.
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