MONTREAL -- The work of a Montreal researcher could lead to identifying which children have a genetic predisposition to cancer, allowing them to be closely monitored and, hopefully, lead to an early diagnosis of the disease.

There are believed to be more than 125 types of genetic predispositions to cancer in young people, and new types are constantly being identified.

"Our research is aimed at identifying children who have cancer and whose cancer is likely related to an underlying hereditary disease," said Dr. Catherine Goudie, an oncologist at the Montreal Children's Hospital. "The goal is to find syndromes in children who have cancer."

Goudie and her team developed the MIPOGG (McGill Interactive Pediatric OncoGenetic Guidelines) application. This free, bilingual software allows doctors to identify which of their patients should undergo a genetic evaluation for preliminary cancer screening.

The application uses more than 140 decision algorithms to make a recommendation to the physician based on clinical data from family history and tumour characteristics.

Data collected in this way could help determine if this child also suffers from a hereditary disease that has gone unnoticed until now.

"There are some illnesses that are well known to the public, but there are many others, and often even doctors are not aware that cancer can be linked to this hereditary disease," Goudie said.

"Unfortunately, in 2021, medicine is not really able to prevent cancer from appearing," she continued. "We must therefore redouble our efforts to identify the disease as early as possible, which will then facilitate its treatment."

Detecting a hereditary disease in a child who already has cancer could allow doctors to adjust the treatment he or she receives. For example, she said, a patient with a brain tumour in the context of any syndrome could be treated differently than a patient with the same tumour but without an inherited disease.

In addition, we may eventually be able to identify other family members who may be at risk of developing cancer, since some studies have seen a "slightly increased tendency" in relatives of a cancer patient, Goudie said.

The child could also be subjected to what doctors call a "surveillance protocol" in the hope of detecting other cancers that might occur in the child.

"It's a lifelong treatment," Goudie said. "It's a lifelong surveillance to try to find other cancers at an earlier stage."

The application has been downloaded several hundred times in more than 50 countries around the world. It has been adopted in national genetic studies in the Netherlands and Australia, and all teams treating children and young adults with cancer use it.

It should now be translated into other languages to improve its accessibility, power, sustainability and ability to be widely disseminated in the genetics community.

"The first thing is to be able to better understand hereditary diseases that predispose someone to cancer is to be able to detect them,'' said Goudie. "If you don't know who has them, you can't study them. The principle behind this application is to be able to detect children who have cancer and have an underlying hereditary disease. This is the first step if we want to study them and better understand what is going on in their lives."

- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021.