Cancer Geneticist

A cancer geneticist approaches the fight against cancer on a genetic level. One mission of cancer geneticists is to identify the role that specific genes play in cancer and determine if these genes can be controlled with drugs or other means. Another area of important research is how and why some cancers are more common among certain families or ethnic groups. By studying the relationships between genes and cancer, these scientists are reshaping medicine so that cancer will one day be more predictable, treatable, and preventable. To be a cancer geneticist you need a medical degree (M.D.) or Ph.D.

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Cancer Geneticist in Action


Dr. Olufunmilayo Olopade

Title: Director, Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics, University of Chicago

Education: M.D., University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Breast cancer occurs in many different forms. It has been most widely studied in Caucasian women but takes a very different form in women of African ancestry. Breast cancer hits women of African ancestry earlier and more aggressively than it does Caucasian women. Dr. Olufunmilayo Olopade wants to learn why. Working with scientists in her native Nigeria, Dr. Olopade compared gene expression in samples of cancer tissue from African women with samples of cancer tissue from Canadian women. She found that cancer cells from the African women often lacked estrogen receptors. This finding means that many of the standard treatments are not effective for this group of women.

Dr. Olopade’s work will have a huge impact on breast cancer screening and treatment in women of African ancestry. “Cancer doesn’t start overnight,” she says. “We can develop strategies for preventing it.”

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